Improve reporting to reduce crime: the work of the NBCS

Improve reporting to reduce crime: the work of the NBCS

Picture of Peter Fisher

CONNECTED: What is the National Business Crime Solution and why was it established?

PETER FISHER, NBCS GENERAL MANAGER: The NBCS is an independent, not for profit, limited by guarantee organisation, incorporated in 2014 with a small number of retailers who wanted to identify whether they could deliver better results in reducing their business crime by working together.

At the time, they were focused on national travelling offenders and organised criminality. Businesses were reluctant to share their data directly with each other, because of both perceived commercial risk and the compliance and legal issues around personal data, so, essentially, the NBCS acted as the data controller.

We analysed the data, identified areas where there were travelling offenders targeting each of those businesses, pulled those investigations together as a series, and then pushed that series into policing, and we got some good outcomes. Since then, we've grown substantially. We now support a variety of business sectors as well as business crime reduction partnerships (BCRPs) and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in terms of their local crime reduction work.

We have a representative members group, with voices from each sector, which helps drive direction. Those sectors include fashion retail, supermarkets, DIY and Speciality, convenience, e-commerce, and transport & distribution, which we support under our Truckpol brand.

What's the philosophy that underpins it all?

 We feel that by working collaboratively with all partners and stakeholders, we've got a much better opportunity to reduce crime. And that crime is significant. Last year's British Retail Consortium 2021 Retail Crime Survey showed that the overall cost of crime, taking into account both losses and crime prevention costs for retail, has risen year on year and now stands at £2.5 billion, up from £2.2 billion in 2020. That includes crime prevention spending of £1.2 billion and losses to crime of £1.3 billion, of which customer theft makes up £935 million.

The survey also said that violence and abuse against shop workers was up to 455 incidents a day, including 114 incidents of violence each day. Only 6% of incidents of violence and abuse ended in prosecution and only 3% were dealt with as aggravated. That's the reality of business crime in a retail setting right now.

The vision of the NBCS is to deliver the most collaborative and trusted preventative crime intelligence network in the UK.

It's important to remember that it's not just about the financial losses to business. If you think of the convenience sector, for example, there are often one or two store colleagues at any time selling sensitive products like tobacco and alcohol, and you've got people that will come into the stores, threaten those employees and commit acts of violence. It's a very traumatic experience, no matter the outcome.

We deliver our services to reduce crime to protect the profits of our member businesses, because of course that profit all feeds in collectively to the UK economy. But we primarily do it to make sure that we are protecting people. The more crime we prevent, the less violence is committed against shop workers.

Image of cityscape in the UK

That safer business environment can also have a really positive effect on communities...

That's right. When your crime rate is lower, you have higher footfall in your high street, and spending is greater. When footfall increases, people feel safer. Everything gets better when crime is reduced.

Let's get a bit more specific about the kinds of activities the NBCS undertakes.

Alongside organised criminals who target businesses across the UK, and regional offenders or groups who will travel around a county or to a couple of adjoining counties, we also deal with local persistent offenders. And these local, prolific and persistent offenders are most likely to be unpredictable and the ones who present the highest risk in terms of violence.

We use a national intelligence model approach. We collate data which we receive from businesses, BCRPs, BIDs and other partners. We then identify similarities in the data, such as the method used to commit the crime or by the name or geographical location of the offence.

If an individual is targeting one particular retailer, we can see whether they're linked to other retailers, and NBCS is the only one who can see that from a national perspective. If we are looking at a regional or national threat, our police liaison team will turn that into a full investigation.

An individual business might not be able to get traction from policing, because they're only talking about one or two offences. But because we've collated data from across the retail sector, we can often supply 30, 40, 50 offences as a package. The police are far more likely to pick that package up and run with the investigation which, of course, leads to better outcomes.

We also take that intelligence and push it back to the businesses, BCRPs and BIDs, so that they can take the information, identify offenders, and in turn provide that intelligence to their local members and security teams, who can target-harden with the objective of preventing crime before it's committed.

If we can prevent the crime, then there is no resource required and no cost to police, and there's no crime prevention resource and cost to the business.

And this is why you partner with BIDs and their business crime reduction schemes?

Correct. If the NBCS has 12 business members in a particular town or city centre, and we push our alert out, in the best-case scenario that alert goes to 12 businesses. But the BCRPs might have dozens or hundreds of businesses within the area. They can share our intelligence across their network, further increasing our ability to prevent crime and support independent retailers.

If the Business Improvement District has a town centre resource, like a warden, or an ambassador-type scheme, they can pick up that intelligence and identify the risk on the high street and prevent the crime before it even gets to the front door of the business. This is the thinking.

It's worth pointing out too, that NBCS takes its data compliance responsibilities incredibly seriously. We've got all the processes, compliance documentation and mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of that data and to ensure that it's compliant with the appropriate legislation.

Busy highstreet with crowds walking

What are the main challenges you face?

One of the challenges we've got as a sector is making sure that all the crime that occurs against a business is reported into police and in some cases to the business. If police don't understand what the true volume of business crime looks like, how can they appropriately resource for it?

If we don't have the full dataset, how can we lobby to support businesses? That means also providing a full dataset to police, but a significant barrier to that is what we call 'double keying' on the shop floor.

What's double keying?

Let's say I work in a store where an incident has occurred. I'm expected to report into my internal crime management system so my business can see what's going on. Once I've done that, I've got to report either online or to 101. Online can be difficult because often businesses operate on an intranet, meaning that they can't access external URLs. So I've got to call 101, where waiting times can be up to 45 minutes. Then I get through to the call handler, and I spend another 20 minutes telling them what's happened with the offence. By then I've been on the phone for an hour, plus 15 minutes reporting internally. Even if all reports were online, that takes me 15 minutes to complete, so there's a minimum of 30 minutes required regardless.

If I'm a member of a local business crime partnership, I have to report it into their system. That's another 15 minutes. And often, the reports need to go to other places, depending on the business process. So best case scenario, I'm expected to report that three times.

If you're a national retailer, you could realistically suffer from 100,000-plus crimes per annum and be expected to report those three times each. When you do a report to the police, you don't often get any feedback, as it's volume crime and they get a lot of it. You are hesitant to spend time reporting to police when there's likely no particular outcome. And there's a productivity cost, because it takes people off the shop floor to make those reports. Less colleagues on the shop floor increases risk in itself, and you're unable to best serve customers.

Together that creates a huge problem. Police are only really receiving between 5% and 15% of the actual volumes of crime. 85 to 95% of crime has not been recorded.

How do we address that?

We simplify the process. The technology is there. For violent crime, you call 999 and expect a police response. If it's not violent, if there's no threat or fear of violence, then you put the incident report into your internal system and that's automatically shared with the National Business Crime Solution's iNTEL ONE system. We create a link between our software and policing software. So now when you report internally, it automatically pushes the crime into the policing software. It's what we call One Touch Reporting, and it removes the need to call 101 or log into the police Single Online Home. It saves productivity costs, allows you to serve more customers, and police have the full picture of the actual volume of crime being committed.

We're currently running a very successful trial with Sussex Police doing exactly that. There's a very forward-thinking Business Crime Lead and Police Crime Commissioner in Sussex, and we'd love to see other Forces come on board.

It makes sense from a police perspective, too. If they don't have the data, they don't have the full picture, and they can't effectively target resources.

That information is probably useful to your supplier members as well?

It is. The reason we set up our associate membership in the first place was we wanted to put suppliers in front of our member decision makers. We want them to understand what the real issues are for those organisations so that they can tailor their products and services to meet the most up to date needs. If we're working in partnership with our suppliers, our associate members, and with the retailers and the other businesses that we support, then we have a collective approach where products and services have been developed to try to tackle the issue. We're removing offenders through our processes. The retailers are getting better products and services. And the BIDs and the BCRPs give us the opportunity to have thousands of extra eyes across the UK.

Suppliers, retailers, BIDs, BCRPs, transport and distribution companies, including drivers, bring all that together. We put some systemic processes in place, and suddenly, you've got this ring of steel which prevents the crime. And then if we can get the policing bit right on the end of that, making sure that police can get all the business crime data, you've then got a very effective police response, because they're targeting the right areas and the right people.

It allows you to start looking at things more broadly, too...

That's right, identifying the reasons why people are becoming offenders, and trying to tackle those reasons. If offenders are getting stopped by police or ending up in custody suites, at that point there needs to be intervention: is this person at this time right for some type of diversionary action? How can we support them? Is it a drug and alcohol issue? Is it an addiction fuelled issue? This person is caught committing a crime, but are they actually "a criminal"? Or are they a victim?

And if we can identify that, at that point of the process, then they can be referred to diversionary efforts, alternative development efforts, and then we can take them out of the criminal system completely by getting right to the root of the problem. Again, you can't do that unless you have the data. It's sometimes difficult to achieve, but there needs to be a focus on the long-term as well as the short-term wins.

Logo of NBCS

If you would like to find out more about the NBCS, get in touch with them here: Contact - NBCS

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