PCC summit hears of violence against business

Violence against shop workers – and delivery drivers with online shopping buys – was among the recurring themes of last night’s annual business summit by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

While retail has reported an increase in violence – one of the speakers, Chief Insp Patrick Holdaway of the National Business Crime Centre, quoted findings by the Co-operative retail chain, the trade bodies the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC), and the trade union Usdaw‘s Freedom From Fear campaign – before the pandemic, the retail lockdown restrictions have seen what Holdaway called ‘spitting as a weapon’, particularly when shop staff have been trying to manage queues.

Similarly the West Midlands force’s lead for business crime, Supt Harvi Khatkar, described an increase in criminals targeting parcel delivery drivers – not only Amazon, but Royal Mail, and DPD. Hence work by the force’s design out crime lead, Mark Silvester (featured in the April 2019 print edition of Professional Security magazine) with such firms, to educate drivers in personal safety awareness.

Crime trends as described by her and others since the pandemic outbreak suggested adaptable and resourceful criminals. For while physical crimes against retail fell – understandably, given that shops were shuttered, or those that did stay open even during lockdown had more security officers, to manage social distancing – businesses are reporting more scams and fraud attempts. Likewise, while crimes around physical cashpoint machines and against cash in transit have fallen, in the West Midlands and nationally – again, understandable as people use contactless methods of payment more – that has only meant more cyber crime attempts against people using online banking.

The online event was opened by deputy PCC Waheed Saleem, who said that he had been aghast to hear about violence against shop workers: “I heard stories from shop workers who were spat at, racially abused and physically assaulted, for doing their job, and asking people to follow the [coronavirus] rules; this is unacceptable. That is why I am calling for the Government to introduce tougher laws to protect our hard working shop workers.”

He introduced the PCC David Jamieson, who briefly ran over the past year’s events. Policing, he said, has seen a sharp shift in priorities and has faced a series of challenges ‘we just wouldn’t have imagined 12 months ago’. As covered later in the evening, he said that robbery and other business crimes such as theft from shops had seen a significant fall in the first lockdown, ‘but ±I fear that that won’t last forever, and we may see some of those crimes re-emerging’.

As previously, he stressed the PCC’s and policing’s part in making possible economic development of the region. “We can’t see our way forward to developing the region while so many people are denied access to work. I am particularly concerned about younger people.” Like another, later speaker on the night, Jonathan Duck, representing the West Midlands arm of the business association the CBI, David Jamieson warned of crime as a result.

Jamieson said: “We know from experience when people are unoccupied and unemployed, particularly younger men, that often leads to violence and criminality – not in all cases, but with a significant minority.” While he welcomed the Government’s Kickstart scheme, seeking to encourage businesses to employ such young people, Jamieson added that it goes ‘nowhere near enough to cope with the scale of the problem we have here in the West Midlands’.

As for fraud, Jamieson said: “Frankly, the UK response to this sort of crime is just not good enough. It is an area of policing where policing in general right across the country needs to make more progress.”

More in the March 2021 print edition of Professional Security magazine.