The Essex Police Business Crime Team works with the retail sector across Essex to prevent and deter shoplifting and to help staff stay safe at work.
Essex Police officers made 1,147 arrests for shop theft in the year to 30 September 2023. And officers solved 514 more offences – a 26.2% increase – than they did in the previous 12 months.
Thanks to the force’s business crime officers and their 'Open for Business, Closed for Crime' campaign, retail staff now have more confidence to report theft and anti-social behaviour, says Sergeant Christian Denning.
The team supports businesses across Essex, big and small, explaining how they can report crime and anti-social behaviour. They also provide security, crime prevention, fraud and cyber-crime advice.
And they work in tandem with police officers and police community support officers in community policing teams across Essex, who help them to build links with local shops and businesses.
A large part of the team’s work involves working with retail chains and independent shops.
The team encourages stores to look at their premises through the eyes of a shoplifter, who will ask themselves three questions:
- Does the general shop security appear poor?
- Can I get away with it?
- If caught, will I be prosecuted?
Sergeant Christian Denning says retailers should consider installing visual deterrents and alarms, changing shop layouts and pursuing prosecutions. “If a store gains a reputation for being difficult to steal from or for contacting police and assisting with criminal investigations, then that will put off a lot of offenders targeting them in the first place.
“Whether they are an independent or a national chain, we will advise them on building security, where to place tills and desirable products, how to eliminate blind spots, to restrict access to non-public areas and what type of shelving and cabinets hinder thieves. Officers will tell staff about types of suspicious behaviour to look out for, while also reminding them that they don’t always imply guilt.
“We also advise stores to clearly state their policies on shoplifting and reporting crime to the police. Knowing that shoplifting could result in prosecution and a criminal record is likely to deter opportunist and younger shoplifters.”
The Business Crime Team review every shoplifting case and, where it is believed a criminal behaviour order would be justified to help to protect retailers from repeated abuse and stealing, they work with local officers to apply to the court for them.
“Not only do criminal behaviour orders prevent offenders from entering stores they have been targeting, they can also be issued with conditions which are intended to get offenders support to change their behaviour and prevent further criminal activity,” says Sergeant Denning.
“But we can only apply for such orders after a successful prosecution, which will have been supported by evidence provided to us by the retailers themselves.”
One of the retail chains business crime officers work closely with is the East of England Co-op. Sergeant Denning says their proactive evidence-gathering and record-keeping assists community policing teams in putting a case together.
“They are quick to share security camera footage with us and to provide statements relating to shoplifting incidents and abuse of staff and they will also share information about prolific offenders targeting their stores.
“It is why a significant number of East of England Co-op stores feature in the criminal behaviour orders we obtain against prolific shoplifters banning them from certain shops.”
Lee Hammond, East of England Co-op’s head of Secure Response, has been working collaboratively with Essex Police for the past ten years. He explains that by working together with police forces such as Essex, sharing information and having regular meetings with specialist business crime officers, there is a better chance of successful convictions.
He says: “We recognise that if we get the leg-work done, the police can make the arrest and there is a higher chance of a conviction. In some cases, offenders are getting a good length of custodial sentences. Our retail support officers will always call police when they apprehend offenders. We help by obtaining statements from our staff, linking crimes and offenders and completing all the relevant paperwork to build a package to hand over to the police.
“There is at least one body-camera in each of our shops, which helps us to gather vital evidence quickly because our staff are on the spot and we will turn over CCTV footage, too. We have regular meetings with the Essex Police Business Crime Team to identify emerging issues – it’s great to speak to police officers who understand the particular nature of business crimes.”
TownLink radio schemes are another way of preventing shop thefts and anti-social behaviour. There are currently ten schemes in Essex towns and the city of Southend, involving more than 480 users.
Sergeant Denning says: “The TownLink radio system also provides vital reassurance to retailers in towns which have it. They can alert each other to incidents and call the police if they require assistance. We are always happy to hear from councils and business leaders who would support a system being set up in their town.”
Will Garrod, operations manager for ShopSafe, which provides and maintains the TownLink service, delivers radio sets to retailers, accompanied by our business crime officers.
Will says: “It's great to launch new TownLink systems. The radios provide businesses with a link to share vital information about local suspects instantly with each other and Essex Police. The TownLink systems introduced all over Essex have been a real success and it's great to work alongside Essex Police, who are taking such a proactive approach in addressing business crime.”
Essex Police Business Crime Team
The Essex Police Business Crime Team specialises in supporting businesses, working to build relationships with independent shops and retail chains, explaining how they can report crime and, just as importantly, what will happen when they do.
They help to identify risks in the workplace, providing crime prevention, fraud and cyber-crime advice and strengthening links with businesses and partners, including local community safety partnerships, Essex Chambers of Commerce and the Essex Federation of Small Businesses.
Working with the National Business Crime Centre, the team share nationally-identified crime trends and best practice with the business community. And they have also developed a comprehensive guide to business crime prevention which identifies steps business-owners can take to protect themselves and their properties.
For more information, visit Essex Police Business Crime Team