Much has been made in the national media about the former Coalition Government’s austerity cuts to public services and, in terms of the security space, the Police Federation of England and Wales continues to be vocal in its opposition to the proposed reduction of police officer numbers. Where is it all going to end? Peter Webster assesses the present state of play around ‘The Thin Blue Line’.
Just a few weeks ago, an incident occurred at Corps Security’s headquarters in London’s Farringdon that could have cost us a significant sum of money. Paul Craggs, our Chief Financial Officer, received an e-mail purporting to have been sent by myself and which posed a question around how to arrange a payment to a third party.
After we established that this communication was a deliberate attempt at cyber fraud, we wrote back asking for the name of the person to whom we should send our payment and their bank account details (both of which were given to us by return). Therefore, swift action could have identified the perpetrator through the bank account before the time came when it was inevitably closed.
At this point, we duly called the police service to provide them with this information such that fast and appropriate action could be taken. Let’s just say that the level of disinterest with which we were met was truly shocking. Effectively, we were simply asked to report this incident so that it could be recorded, and then informed that no further action would be taken.
This albeit anecdotal experience is but one example of what appears to be a worrying trend regarding the police service’s desire – or ability – to deal with certain types of criminal act. Retail crime, for example, appears to be at the sharp end. Indeed, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has expressed its members’ fears that the police service regards shoplifting as a ‘victimless crime’ and perhaps one which is not to be taken too seriously. To my mind, nothing could be further from the truth.
Dealing with criminality
In January this year, the BRC published details of a study which found that UK retailers recorded an estimated three million offences against them in 2013-2014, while the average value of each theft in store increased by 36% to £241 – the highest level for a decade, in fact. This rise has helped to push up the direct cost of retail crime by 18% to £603 million.
Part of the problem appears to stem from the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which received Royal Assent in March last year. Section 176 makes theft from a shop of goods worth £200 or less a summary-only offence which can be considered for police-led prosecution provided a guilty plea is indicated.
For some, this was seen as the authorities ‘going soft’ on shoplifters and did not take into account that a sum of just £50 can seriously affect a small shopkeeper’s bottom line.
This isn’t a recent issue, though. Back in 2013, crime logs revealed that police in Birmingham were failing to record or investigate more than 60% of shoplifting offences in the city. Hard to believe, I know, but some cases were being ignored because police officers wrongly believed that shoplifting – a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 – was a civil offence.
It would seem that this level of ignorance wasn’t just an isolated case. Despite assurances from the Police Federation that the police service does take the matter seriously, a growing raft of evidence suggests otherwise to the extent that shoplifting is effectively being decriminalised by stealth.
Austerity measures: the effects
Of course, it’s appreciated that the police service has witnessed some massive cuts over recent years, having lost nearly 16,000 officers from forces in England and Wales – the equivalent of losing all the police forces in the South West of England.
When challenged on the implications of political and economic ‘Austerity’, Paul Ford – secretary of the Police Federation’s National Detective Forum – has stated that these issues are affecting the police service’s ability to protect communities and respond to calls.
The issue is as much about resource allocation as it is about numbers of police officers. Lots of time, manpower and money are thrown at thwarting the growing terrorist threat. While this is necessary, it’s at the expense of what are considered less serious crimes. Unfortunately, Joe Public is the one to bear the brunt of such decisions.
My big concern is where all of this will ultimately lead us. Yes, the retail sector is already feeling the effects, but other sectors are suffering as well.
Robbery at Hatton Garden
The Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Robbery both shocked and amazed me. The fact that such an audacious robbery was carried out so successfully in an age where surveillance, access control and alarm technology has never been more sophisticated was simply incredible.
The thieves involved even managed to come and go on two separate occasions. Reports suggest they first entered the building after 9.00 pm on 2 April and then left shortly after 8.00 am on 3 April. They then returned to the scene soon after 10.00 pm on 4 April and were recorded on CCTV leaving the premises at around 6.40 am the following day.
It also appears that the police decided not to respond to an intruder alarm alert issued by the Alarm Receiving Centre. We’re yet to discover why, but in a statement Scotland Yard said: ‘It’s too early to say if the handling of the call would have had an impact on the outcome of the incident.’ Given what we now know, I think that it would have been prudent to have at least attended the scene. Not doing so proved to be a very costly mistake.
While more details about this staggering incident will likely emerge in due course, it’s abundantly clear that there was a ‘disconnect’ at some point in the process and that follow-up actions were not carried out in the proper fashion. A more joined-up approach to the building’s security provision would have created an effective operational system whereby others would have been asked to investigate such an event and more sophisticated technology implemented.
For example, we’ve all seen the image of the hole that was drilled to gain access to the safety deposit boxes, so was a seismic detection solution in place and was the intruder alarm system correctly specified?
Should we take it on the chin?
Those who’ve had the utterly grim misfortune to be the victims of burglary, vandalism or criminal damage will know only too well that, in most cases, the issuing of a crime reference number is the full extent of police involvement.
It appears to me that the victims of crime are being forced into a position whereby the only alternatives to police inaction are to launch a costly and time-consuming civil legal action, or else simply take it on the chin.
From my own point of view let me tell you that I’m extremely uncomfortable with both scenarios, and firmly believe that the only way in which to prevent crime paying is to have a robust and effective police service that acts as a deterrent to those with criminal intent.
To put it bluntly, anything less than that scenario places us all in danger.
Peter Webster is CEO of Corps Security