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Partnership pays off
Published:  24 April, 2014

A partnership approach between landlords, retailers and the authorities is essential to drive down crime. For example a city-wide initiative is helping to fight retail crime in Nottingham

Security in shopping centres has always relied on communication - with police, security providers, the guards on the ground, and with retailers - but more and more these relationships are evolving from necessary procedure-led conversations and actions into strong partnerships that deliver the extra resource to implement new and valuable anti-crime initiatives.

One such example is Nottingham BID, which has recently appointed its first business crime reduction ambassador.

The BID took over responsibility for crime reduction initiatives in the city after the Nottingham Business Against Crime outfit crumbled, appointing Andrew Evans to the newly created role in a move aimed to help the city’s three shopping centres - intu Victoria, intu Broadmarsh and The Exchange - and city centre shops and leisure outlets tackle shoplifting and other offences.

Evans acts as a liaison point between the BID, its members and other agencies, collating intelligence and information from BID members about well-known shoplifters, counterfeit banknotes and other scams, sharing the details with stakeholders where appropriate. He also works closely with the BID’s partners, including Nottinghamshire Police – which has recently signed an information sharing protocol with the BID - and Nottingham City Council, to develop a partnership approach to crime reduction.

“The city’s previous anti-crime outfit failed so we were lacking an organised approach to crime reduction,” explains Neil Fincham, BID director and centre manager at The Exchange. “We had a clean slate and the opportunity to set up a new initiative from scratch. Andy joined us in September last year and we’ve embarked on an awful lot of research to inform how we should set up and run the new programme.”

The BID has organised monthly intelligence sharing meetings, hosted by one of the intu centres, which Fincham says are well attended and increasingly popular. But the biggest change has come on the technology side, with the BID investing in a city-wide digital radio system, managed by Evans, which links people, businesses and partners across the city centre to facilitate the prompt sharing of information. There are currently over 170 users, a number expected to top 200 by the end of the year.

“The radio system offers very good coverage and includes a caller ID function so it’s quick and clear to see who’s transmitting,” says Fincham. “Each handset has a panic button that sounds an alert in the control room, allowing for a very quick response to emergency situations.”

The BID also uses an intranet system which members can log into to upload and view information from around the city, including the sharing of images of local criminals and other information with and via the police.

Fincham used to be centre manager at the Britten centre in Lowestoft where a banning order had been implemented and he’s using his experience to bring a similar scheme to Nottingham, also sharing best practice with centres trialling banning orders in Brighton and Ipswich, with Evans travelling around the country to learn about other successful initiatives.

“We get information, including photos, passed to us by the police whenever someone is convicted of theft and other crimes so it’s a way of documenting criminal activity,” says Fincham. “We have a third time and you’re out policy, but once you’re banned from one store, you’re banned from the city centre. We’re putting the final touches to the protocols and hope it’ll be fully implemented in August or September.”

While Fincham says “there was a lot of scrabbling around in the dark” when the BID first took over the anti-crime responsibility, he is positive both about what they have achieved so far and the future of the programme.

“There was a void to fill and we were left to pick up the pieces,” he says. “But we’ve had really good cooperation from the police and we’ll continue to work together to reduce crime.”

Elsewhere, at Skelmersdale’s Concourse shopping centre, owners London & Cambridge have part funded the provision of an on-site police officer as part of its security measures.

Centre management was approached by Lancashire Constabulary which offered to part fund an officer to work on site part time, with the centre stumping up for the rest of his salary.

The officer works 20 hours a week in four hour shifts on various days depending on when the centre needs extra support - evenings and weekends, and during busy periods, particularly in the run up to Christmas.

“The officer joined in late 2012, and it’s worked out really well,” says centre manager, Gary Mitchell. “He knows the criminals in the area and can help to identify them before they come into the centre. Plus, if we do need to make an arrest, he’s there and ready so we don’t have to wait for the police to arrive.”

The officer acts as a strong link between the centre and the local police force and the centre and its customers have benefitted from anti-crime campaigns – the centre recently hosted a hard-hitting campaign aimed at deterring drink-driving, for example – that it might not have had the opportunity to promote otherwise.

“He’s pro-active, he works well with our 11 guards, bolstering the team, and he’s built up a good relationship with tenants,” says Mitchell. “Plus there’s that extra perception of security with a policeman on the malls; his police uniform has clout.”

Security providers are getting in on the action too, striking up partnerships in order to better serve their clients.

Security specialist Octavian, which counts CBRE, DTZ, St Modwen and BNP Paribas among its clients, has teamed up with renowned retail crime and fraud experts from the Centre for Retail Research to further improve its retail security provision, applying expert knowledge of criminal behaviour in the retail sector to enhance the company’s services.

The CRR’s input led to the introduction of a more strategic approach to the company’s security programmes, to prevent shrinkage as well as to improve the shopping experience for customers, bolstering Octavian’s customer service training for its officers.

The experts looked at engendering closer client relationships, using tools such as focus groups with clients’ customers, and workshops with their retail teams to help identify and reduce shrinkage wherever it occurred through theft.

“Traditionally, fighting crime has effectively meant making as many arrests as possible but the approach now is to prevent crime happening rather than waiting for it to happen,” says Octavian’s managing director, Jot Engelbrecht. “So now, our philosophy is to prevent rather than react. We identify regular offenders and those who are acting suspiciously to reduce losses wherever possible because dealing with thefts and other crimes that have already occurred is more time consuming - you have to get the police involved, and that creates negative connotations for the other customers.”

The strategy also extends to the role security guards play in the shopping experience, as Engelbrecht concludes: “You have to give visitors a good, positive experience to encourage them to return. Seeing a security presence will make them feel safe, but going the extra mile by helping customers wherever possible, giving them directions for example, will improve the customer experience, increase dwell time and impact on profits in a positive way.”