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Crime and the business community

Business Crime Seminar
Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry
24 July 2001

It’s been a long morning, so I will not go over the ground so excellently covered by previous speakers.  Instead, I will underline some points and then take you to some places where you may not have expected.  My purpose in doing so is not only to push ahead the Government’s agenda on crime – for that is my job – but also to help to make your business more profitable, which can’t be bad.

Business crime has three major aspects:

  • crimes against the business, and we’ve heard quite a lot about that this morning;
  • crime associated with your product or service, about which we have heard rather less; and
  • crime and your staff, and it may surprise you that I raise at all.

As far as crimes against your business is concerned, I hope you have got the message that all agencies of the criminal justice system take it seriously.

In relation to retail crime, the British Retail Consortium’s annual survey demonstrates how retail crime can fall dramatically when it is tackled by a partnership of retailers, police, local authorities and town centre managers. For example, the Romford Partnership against Retail Crime has reduced the incidence of retail crime by 27% in two years through its use of CCTV, radio links, exclusion notices and offender targeting schemes.

A serious issue, of course, is that businesses can be hard-nosed about crime.  Some businesses take the view that it is more profitable not to invest in security and just call the police when a theft takes place.  Some stores are singlehandedly responsible for a significant proportion of crime in their town simply because they promote their goods in an unsafe way.

One of the most famous examples is putting CDs or records in open stacks rather than behind the till.  I know that a CD costs less than £3 so may not be worth defending.  But, if you have decided that you don’t mind losing the CD and, I suspect, have no intention of making an insurance claim, why call the police?  Just because the service is free to you?  An investigation and  prosecution costs the taxpayer about £3500 for starters and this kind of crime is on the increase.  And who loses, who are the victims, when police time is taken up on this kind of business?

The truth of the matter is that looking to the criminal justice system to protect you against crime is like regarding A&E as a way of protecting you against accidents.

Other examples of highly preventable crime are allowing cars to leave petrol stations without paying; not having real security on many cash machines, for instance spraying the wadges of notes with dye when the machines are carried off in a forklift; and the general resistance to having greater security on payment cards.

As far as payment cards are concerned, you may have heard of the possible introduction of chips or PIN numbers to reduce fraudulent use of credit cards.  There is also the possibility of a joint police-industry team working to tackle organised payment card and cheque fraud, and better exchange of intelligence information across the two sides.

From a business point of view, offences like these can be offset against increased revenue or lower costs: but society sees and fears rising crime.  In the Thames Valley area, increases in crimes of this kind – described as “Other crime” in the statistics – may even wipe out the significant improvements that have been achieved with target crimes like house burglary and vehicle crime.

But we must not overlook the simpler bread-and-butter of crime reduction.  Securing your car parks as well as your premises.  There are private car parks – including at some quality hotels – which are not as secure as the local authority’s.  They are exposing their customers and their cars to unnecessary risk and they, too, push up crime.

On the more positive side, it is possible for businesses to play their part in trying to keep the community safe.  For instance, by allowing the local council to put a CCTV mast on your land, or the cables across your land.  Even better, allowing them to put it on your building if that is what the sightlines require.

There are some excellent companies who not only do that but clean and maintain the camera for the public good: and there are some who are just difficult, who may not want crime but don’t want to do anything to help.  I am sure everyone here would wish to be in the first group.  Reflect on what your company’s policy is and decide whether it is right.  And if you would like public recognition for this, I don’t think that would be a problem.

My second point is about your product or your service.  One of the first lessons learnt by any criminologist is that all new inventions or developments are associated with new crime.  2000 years or more years ago when coins were invented, they soon needed to retrofit security to avoid fraud. You would have shocked Henry Ford if you had told him that his product would be become the single biggest driver of crime in the 20th century and we are only just beginning to get cars anywhere near an acceptable level of security.

The same story reappears, as night follows day, with mobile phones and the internet which are today’s insecure inventions creating significant crime waves all of their own.  And, to finish with a seasonal example, we heard earlier this year how cricket can be the vehicle for major and serious crimes.

I’m not blaming Henry Ford or the brilliant inventors of modern telephony and the internet for these crimes. The problem is that we are not brought up to think about crime early enough.  You wouldn’t be allowed to market a product which endangered health.  We need to think in a similar way about crime.

I know the urgency of getting the product to the market early but the history of criminology is also full of examples of where insecure products have led to massive losses – losses on insecure mobile phones might do and, if it were a product, I don’t suppose the cricket scandals have done the game a great deal of good.

Sure, the Government is prepared to play its part.  It has announced a cash injection of £25m to boost the police service’s capability to investigate crime committed through computers, including fraud, extortion, hacking and paedophilia.

This  will enable each force to have at least one dedicated hi-tech crime investigator with expert knowledge of Internet technology.  The Prime Minister has also announced plans to establish a National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, which will start in April 2001.

These changes should place the UK at the forefront of the international fight against cybercrime and, in line with our G8 commitments, help fund a 24-hour international hot line to trade information on potential attacks on the national infrastructure and promote closer cross border working.  We take this seriously.

My third point is about your staff.  It might surprise you that I raise this at all, especially as I am not going to talk about employee theft which is an issue all of itself.

Your staff are your most valuable resource and sickness and low morale are expensive.

Which is why I want to raise the importance of domestic violence.  It is commonplace and accounts for perhaps 60% of all violent offences.  The tip of the iceberg is represented in this country by the two women who are killed each week by their partner or ex-partner.  Below that grim summit, there is endless beating, cruelty and depression.

Violence against women is so commonplace that at some stage it affects one women in three.  Some will be in your workforce yet, while you will have provisions in place for back pain and RSI,  I doubt if many of you have anything in place to handle the effects of violence in the home. And, if victims are commonplace, so are perpetrators.

There is no doubt in my mind that this will be having an impact on the health of your business.  Safeguarding the welfare of your staff is not only a good thing but good business sense.

How would you take this forward if you wanted to?  There are a number of options.  First, your crime and disorder partnership should be able to help.  The police are members of that, and your personnel people may wish to contact them direct; or they can access the Home Office website which I will put up as I finish.  That contains good links and advice, including how to get in to the health and safety aspects of this.  You need to devise a method of supporting your member of staff and helping her manage both her work and home life.  That is nothing like as difficult as it sounds if the victim has help: it is pretty ghastly if she doesn’t.

Lots of aspects of crime have the potential to cost you money.  But then there is a further hurdle to doing anything about it.  Largely because of the media, too many of us have formed the view that there is nothing much you can do about crime except grin and bear it – that we are helpless and must nothing works.   It’s always a pleasure to see the press but I suspect that they won’t report what follows.  We have a distorted view of crime because of the rather distorted view we generally get through the media.

It is plain wrong to think that there is nothing we can do about crime.  Crime has been falling in this country for six or seven years and this year recorded crime fell in all the English regions, including the South East.  It fell in the Thames Valley area by nearly 9%.

Burglary, for instance, has fallen for the last eight successive years.  Last year, domestic burglary fell by 9% and non-domestic by 6.6%.  The Government is on course to reach its target of reducing domestic burglary by 25% between 1998/99 and 2004/05. This is not magic.  This is largely as the result of people taking simple and common-sense precautions.  21% of burglars enter through an unlocked door and a further 6% through an open window.  We could shut out those offenders for a start.

The theft of cars has similarly been falling – by 7% last year and is now below a million for the first time in 13 years.  Again, the Government is on course to meet its target of a 30% reduction in the five years to 2003/04.

Much of that is also because of improved security.  But 10% of people still do not even lock their cars.  There are things your company can do to stop its cars being stolen and laptops being taken from the backseat of your company’s vehicles when your staff are filling up at Thames Valley’s petrol stations.

But perhaps most of all I should get the message across that we catch most offenders. Known offenders account for the vast majority of reported crime.  It may surprise you to hear this but, in this country, we catch and punish the vast majority of persistent offenders.  People who go on committing offences get caught and are punished for it.

It would be unrealistic to think that we could ever detect or prosecute every offence, so the experience of most of us will be that “our” offender is not caught.  We hear a lot about detection rates for offences, but not for offenders.  But call in at any court and see how offenders are brought to justice so regularly that they have strings of convictions. Our prisons are full: indeed the prison population is rising rather fast.  There aren’t many who are getting away with it.  A major part of the Government’s drive to reduce crime is to target the relatively small number of people who account for the vast majority of offences.  We know who they are.

And that again is where you can help us.  Businesses don’t like reporting crime.  That’s not surprising.  Most victims – whether battered wives or multinational conglomerates – don’t like reporting crime: the offence was bad enough and the hassle of the aftermath is something we could do without.

But the police can’t detect and convict offenders if they don’t get the full picture, if they are simply not told about the offences which are being committed.  We have made a big drive to get higher levels of reporting for the top-level crimes of violence against women and race crimes.  Better co-operation with the business community over the crimes which are taking place and better intelligence about them will help the police.  For their part, the police are greatly improving their handling of this.

Which brings me to Crimestoppers.  Thames Valley has an active and energetic Crimestoppers.  This enables people to give information to the police anonymously and even, sometimes, to claim a reward for doing so.  It is a valuable initiative led by Roy Trustram-Eve, who is here today.  Please support it.  Publicise the Crimestoppers number throughout your company.  If you are in media, consider giving Crimestoppers a plug.

As I have the floor and this is the last formal presentation before the question session, I would like to finish with some thanks: to Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry for setting up this seminar, to those who have contributed this morning – and we have heard some excellent speakers – and also to you for coming along and taking part and being prepared to get engaged.

This is a super part of England with real resources and an excellent quality of life.  An integral part of that quality of life is a low crime rate, so maintaining it is in all of our interests, makes it a nice place to live and work and keeps costs down.

Although we use crime as entertainment, it’s not funny.  Even small crimes fuel the economy for bigger ones.  There is no acceptable level of crime, and there are no crimes which are fun.  Victims will tell you that.  If we are not clear on that point, we lose the plot. Reducing crime involves real co-operation and sometimes giving priority to some longer-term and wider considerations.  I am grateful to you for coming here today to engage in that debate.

Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Crime Reduction Director, Government Office for the South East