Taking stock of crime against businesses

In 2018, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) recorded an average cost of a single commercial property insurance claim for a ‘Theft and Malicious Damage’ incident as being £3,961. The annual frequency of commercial property theft and malicious claims damage is 13%. The 2020 Retail Crime Survey by the British Retail Consortium shows that the Retail Sector has 424 violent or abusive incidents conducted against their staff each day. Against this backdrop, retailers spent £1.2 Billion in 2018 on crime prevention and mitigation measures, with an increasing emphasis on employee protection, yet losses attributed to crime continue to rise.

Mr Robin Edwards is a former Police Chief Inspector with over 28 years of experience who now has a senior role in the UK’s National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership, which was initially funded by the Home Office. His Police work focused on investigating and countering areas of national level criminal acquisitive activity. This hard-won experience has subsequently been used in building the processes of assimilating, analysing and sharing intelligence, information and the best practice knowledge of subject matter experts in mitigating both the likelihood and consequences of criminal activity conducted against businesses. Balkerne speaks to Robin Edwards about criminal activity, consequences for UK commercial companies and approaches to mitigating crime.

Balkerne: What trends in criminal activity have you seen over the duration of the pandemic?
Robin Edwards: Leading up to the pandemic, crime was increasing, and the impact was being felt by UK commercial companies who were seeing their assets actively targeted, which unfortunately had an impact on service delivery. Right now, the degree of criminal co-ordination is on the increase, and organised crime groups are deliberately targeting national infrastructure and other commercial assets. The pandemic undoubtedly suppressed certain crime types, as restrictions on free movement were introduced making it much more difficult for criminals to operate and increasing their risk of detection. I must highlight that commodity prices have risen significantly during the pandemic to levels I have not previously seen, which unfortunately has resulted in more criminals moving to focus on what they believe to be lucrative low risk opportunities, like catalytic convertors for example. As we come out of the pandemic, we are seeing commercial crime increase with certain sectors suffering levels of offending not experienced since pre-2014.

Balkerne: What are the biggest challenges in prompting businesses to be more pro-active in countering crime?

Robin Edwards: There are many challenges facing businesses when it comes to countering crime and being more proactive in terms of protecting assets and maintaining service delivery. In my opinion, there is lack of awareness of consequences that poor asset management processes have on a business and how this impacts levels of risk. For example, a tighter degree of control is required when negotiating third party contracts and how assets are handled, stored, and disposed of. Each process step carries its own risk and could quite easily be mitigated through effective asset management strategies. The challenge is persuading companies that this a worthwhile process that reduces crime, increases revenue, and reduces loss. It can also be challenging to convey to businesses the benefits of a formal, structured, data led understanding of their vulnerabilities and the tracking of subsequent measurable pro-active initiatives. It is common for there to be information and procedural disconnects between internal departments, which makes it more difficult to protect the company and this is exploited by low risk, high reward criminal activity.

Violence against staff is an area that is often examined in isolation by business, and it can only be effectively challenged through the sharing of incident data linked with historical and current analysis on perceived risk. How many companies know statistically which locations put their employees at the greatest risk of violence and do they share this data with their competitor or with other sectors? I suspect not and there is clearly a need for the sharing of crime data when it comes to violence to reduce the risk to employees, and I see no commercial sensitivity in doing this.

Balkerne: What crime mitigation benefits do you see companies achieve from a structured approach to identifying vulnerabilities and reporting criminal events?

Robin Edwards: Violence and crime brings consequences to people and communities. To really understand the nature of criminal activity, it is necessary to gather information on what happened, where and when. By this, I mean that a consistent and structured qualification of every aspect of vulnerability and details of the criminal activity undertaken. Understanding leads to knowledge which should be shared and results in focused and determined actions to address the threat. For example, over the past few years, the retail sector has suffered an increase of shoplifting incidents. Each company has a social responsibility to protect its staff. If company policy is for staff to challenge shoplifters and say 12% of staff get attacked and injured doing so, that is crucial information. If this knowledge leads to a changed company process where shoplifters are only verbally informed by staff from a minimum 5m distance that their theft has been recorded on CCTV, and only 3% of staff are then being attacked, that is a fundamental achievement.

Balkerne: What role do you think criminal event monitoring technology and live alert dissemination has to play in mitigating crime?

Robin Edwards: Here in the UK we obviously do not have gun related issues like in the US, which is a substantial difference. That said, we do have an unfortunate amount of armed robbery incidents, especially on convenience stores, often conducted with a knife or a blunt object. Live alert dissemination for such events can inform similar nearby stores and prompt the necessary responses, like an immediate closure. I also think that tracking of public order events or demonstrations is very important. I understand that the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ disturbances in Paris resulted in hundreds of millions of Euros in damages to businesses, with the first major incident receiving coverage for the lack of anticipation of how destructive the protest would turn.

Balkerne: How can defining and preparing crime response plans help organisations?
Robin Edwards: There is a need within organisations to move away from a response-based approach to dealing with crime, to one that involves planning and action to mitigate future and current threats. The first step is to understand what the threats are and how through effective planning and target hardening, the risks to the organisation can be reduced to be as low as reasonably possible. Understanding threats can only come from collecting and analysing data in a structured format. For example, the vulnerability of cash machines to being ripped out. How many organisations know which locations have bollards placed for protection and this is just one small element of the information needed at each location.

Balkerne: Previously, you have worked with us on developing advanced statistical methods to gain insights into geo-temporal patterns of criminal activity. From your experience, how much value do you think can be achieved from geo-temporal analysis?

Robin Edwards: I know that Balkerne is a very firm believer in applying the principle of Winthroping to data modelling of aspects of criminal activity. I think Balkerne’s work in analysing the criminal conduct of Church lead removal very much showed that geography and landscapes, both immediate and intermediate, have a significant influence upon human decision-making processes. It can be quite challenging to introduce such a different perspective to hardened commercial Security Managers and explain how it relates from the individual property to the property portfolio perspective. I think the key element is generating practical empathy and by that, I mean nurturing Security Managers through the red team process for the different types of crimes together with reviewing the major crime events they have suffered.

Balkerne: What practical consequences do you think will occur for businesses from the proposed legislation ‘Protect Duty’, sometimes also called Martyn’s Law.

Robin Edwards: Inherent to this proposed legislation is the expectation that businesses such as those in entertainment, hospitality and retail will have to plan and take action to improve security at their publicly accessible locations. The legislation is far from finalized but the consultation document suggests that businesses will need to formally understand the threat of terrorism, how acts of terrorism are conducted and subsequently conduct assessments of the risk of terrorism to individual sites. This will most likely create commercial requirements for conducting the assessment of risk and planning, preparing and rehearsing appropriate organisational responses. Businesses which have this approach to planning and taking action on crime should take this new requirement in their step.