Cuts to police funding, misinterpreted legislation and social issues that are creating a rise in certain types of offending have led to a lack of control when it comes to dealing with criminals. Here, Daniel Hardy examines the factors that have created the current situation and why businesses are now having to do far more in order to protect themselves.
Last October, the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of crimes recorded annually in England and Wales had passed the five million mark for the first time in ten years, rising by 13%. Furthermore, the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales, published last month and focused on the year ending September 2017, points towards a total of 10.8 million offences.
Even though Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently announced a substantial £450 million increase in police funding following many years of fiscal cuts, most of this money will be directed towards counter-terrorism policing, meaning that businesses are unlikely to see any significant change in the way that petty criminals are dealt with going forward.
As well as the funding issue, there’s the ongoing distraction of Brexit, with the implications this has for the police service. For example, the UK could well lose the European Arrest Warrant, making it harder to bring suspects back to the UK to face justice, as well as the European Supervision Order, which allows suspects to be released on bail to return to their place of residence.
With Brexit negotiations now in full swing, attention is increasingly being drawn away from domestic issues such as crime – a situation that has created a growing degree of concern about law enforcement and the ways in which persistent offenders are controlled.
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, in point of fact – the police service’s ability to respond to calls has been seriously affected. With massive amounts of available time, manpower and money being put into thwarting the growing terrorist threat, this comes at the expense of what are considered to be less serious crimes. Put simply, business crime isn’t being viewed as a priority.
Far from a new problem
Part of the problem stems from the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which received Royal Assent in March of that 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 that a guilty plea is indicated. For some, this was seen as the authorities ‘going soft’ on shoplifters and didn’t take into account that a sum of just £50 can seriously affect the smaller-scale retail establishment’s bottom line.
This isn’t a particularly new problem, 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. In fact, some cases were being ignored because police wrongly believed that shoplifting – a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968 – was a civil offence.
Despite assurances from the Police Federation of England and Wales that the police service does take the matter seriously, a growing raft of evidence would appear to suggest otherwise.
While physical theft is one element of the situation, online fraud is now the most common crime in the UK and retailers are having to deal with customers who falsely claim that goods haven’t been delivered, or that items were not included in the package sent out for delivery.
Acting with impunity
Perhaps even more of a concern is that the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) 2016 Retail Crime Survey highlighted a growing sense among those working in the retail sector that offenders are becoming more confident in their ability to act with impunity. 56% of retailers questioned offered the view that the police service’s performance was either ‘Poor’ or ‘Very poor’ – something that’s even more concerning given that the BRC has also reported a 40% increase in violence and other forms of abuse against retail workers for the previous year.
This situation is only likely to worsen, given that the UK’s crime trends tend to closely follow those in the USA, where heroin and opiate use has now reached epidemic proportions. Addicts tend to indulge in activities such as low-level shoplifting in order to fund their habits. This can also lead to greater instances of violence if individuals are desperate enough for a ‘fix’.
Time is of the essence
Last year, the Government introduced a 28-day police bail time limit as part of the Policing and Crime Act. This means that, if someone’s released on police bail, it should take no longer than a month for a decision to be made.
Previously, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, there was no legal limit on how long a suspect could be bailed for, other than where minor offences needed to be charged within six months of the committing of the offence in question. As a direct result, suspects could remain on police bail for months or even years with no charge and bail conditions that limited their private lives.
Now, unless certain conditions are fulfilled, the release of an individual while an investigation is ongoing should be without bail. If bail is required, a custody officer has to be satisfied that it’s ‘necessary and proportionate’ and it has to be authorised by an inspector, while one extension of up to three months can be authorised by a senior police officer at superintendent level or above. In exceptional circumstances, where the police need to keep an individual on bail for longer, they will have to apply to a magistrate in order to do so.
The release of arrested individuals without bail is intended to become the norm. While this makes a certain degree of sense, when combined with Section 176 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, it has created a situation wherein a thief can commit a number of offences involving sums of £200 or less and be apprehended, yet face no charge.
This lack of control over the activities, actions and even whereabouts of repeat offenders means that episodes of low-level crime are increasing and that each case is judged individually rather than as part of a bigger picture or linked series of offences.
Misinterpretation of legislation
This is due, at least in part, to a misinterpretation of legislation that’s designed to streamline how offenders are dealt with when they’ve admitted guilt, instead using it to lower the resourcing issue and overall burden upon the police and criminal justice system.
In some forces, this £200 guide has been interpreted as a non-attendance policy based on crime values and could affect a police officer’s decision to take someone into custody, or possibly lead to the closure of an investigation with open lines of enquiry, as they will have to take in factors such as time and budget, generating a wider lack of suspect control in our communities.
Given the status quo, both the police service and the business community have recognised intelligence sharing as being a key driver in identifying and tackling the full nature and extent of the threats faced by businesses. Using collected data and devising a loss prevention strategy that’s more effective can thwart those individuals who offend against multiple businesses.
The issue of inefficient reporting shouldn’t be underestimated or ignored, either. It creates a situation whereby the scale of the problem is unclear, so sufficient resources cannot be allocated to deal with it effectively.
Under-reporting also has the potential to exacerbate the issues of modern day slavery, people trafficking and child sexual exploitation, as those forced into crime by gangs are not identified, with patterns of behaviour going unnoticed. Sharing information can help in identifying persistent offenders who, if companies fail to report a crime to the police, could easily slip under the radar.
Positive steps being taken
Although the overall picture does indeed look pretty gloomy to most, it’s clear that positive steps to address business crime are being taken, with organisations working both internally and in parallel with other external companies to address the issue.
While we would all like to think that the police service could have the resources in place to effectively tackle every type of crime in the future, that day may never come. Therefore, businesses must do all they can to configure effective security strategies, implement risk-based deployment, address loss prevention and online fraud and deliver effective policy and stakeholder management enshrined by a collaborative approach.
With law enforcement agencies adopting a risk-based approach to crime management, any strategy should consider a timely and effective standard of civil investigation that could facilitate policing engagement should suspect breaches take place further down the line.
Daniel Hardy is Managing Director at the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS)
*Mind Your Own Business is the space where the NBCS examines current and often key-critical business crime issues directly affecting today’s companies. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are intended to generate debate and discussion among practitioners within the professional security and risk management sectors. If you would like to make comment on the views outlined, please send an e-mail to: email@example.com
**The NBCS is a ‘Not-for-Profit’ initiative that enables the effective sharing of appropriate data between the police service, crime reduction agencies and the business community to reduce crime and risks posed to all. By providing a central repository where business crime data is submitted, shared and analysed, the NBCS is able to gather the necessary intelligence and support to more effectively detect, prevent and, subsequently, respond to crimes affecting the UK’s business community. For further information access the website at: www.nationalbusinesscrime solution.com