the tragic murder of Cornish operators, Graham and Carol Fisher, last November provided a stark reminder of how vulnerable to crime the forecourt sector can be. The high value of the petrol, along with their often isolated locations, can leave forecourts open to violent crimes and drive-offs. And with the growth of forecourt c-stores, operators will increasingly encounter retail crime.
But there are steps operators and the industry as a whole can take to tighten security to deter and prevent crime. Initiatives such as Total’s Forecourt Reward Scheme (FRS), and its Anti Assault and Robbery Campaign (AARC), show the industry is willing to play a proactive part in the fight against robbery and assault.
Backed by Crimestoppers, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS), FRS offers rewards of between £500 to £10,000 to members of the public who supply information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who commits a crime on a Total site.
Further evidence of the industry’s determination to tackle security issues is the proliferation of business crime partnerships. There are now more than 100 such organisations across the UK, and with Home Office funding of £899,000 going to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) to help encourage involvement in the partnership, their numbers are likely to increase.
As well as sharing intelligence, the partnerships are beginning to share images of known criminals – something that will become even more effective with the development of automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR). But its effectiveness does rely on a sufficient number of operators participating in the scheme, explains Mike Schuck, assistant director for retail crime policy at the BRC. “It’s no good just having it at one forecourt because people can just drive five miles down the road to another operator,” he says. “If we can establish satisfactory links between the ANPR forecourts I think we could start to make big impacts on retail crime.”
This provides the possibility of a national crime database, along the lines of the BRC’s own Business Information Crime System, which is currently up and working in 60 partnerships. “We need to develop the ability to link the databases together and then link them to the forecourts. That isn’t technologically difficult – we’ve just got to do it,” says Schuck.
What is clear is that CCTV will play a major role in the sharing of such intelligence. The impact of traditional CCTV technology has all but peaked, but with better management of CCTV, along with the development of digital systems, improvements can be made to the quality of images to create effective crime prevention databases, which can then be transmitted to business crime partnerships.
Along with drive-offs, the rise of the c-store format on the forecourt means operators are also facing shop crime. According to Schuck at the BRC, the total cost of retail crime fell from £2.41bn in 2001 to £2.25bn. Heartening news perhaps, until you discover that the Retail Crime Survey 2002 also showed that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) face a higher risk of becoming the victims of robbery than larger businesses. In 2002 there were 20 robberies per 100 retail outlets in SMEs, compared to only five robberies per 100 outlets across the sector as a whole. And this figure was up on the previous year, during which SMEs were subject to 12 robberies per 100 outlets. Losses have also increased by 10 per cent.
But robbery is not just about financial loss. According to Schuck, although violence against staff in the retail sector dropped slightly last year from seven per 1,000 staff to six per 1,000, it is impossible to assess if this is a significant long-term trend or merely an aberration. Operators who fail to do all they can to prevent violent crime may also face litigation by the employees. It’s a potential problem that requires a response from the industry, says Schuck.
“There are potentially very serious health and safety at work issues,” he warns. “Independents must realise that their liability is exactly the same as it is for Shell or BP.”
There are steps businesses can take to protect themselves – and their employees. Schuck urges operators to keep on top of the legislation, and to seek advice, either from their suppliers or from relevant trade organisations.
In the event of an incident operators should be able to put a tick against basic questions: was there regular, up-to-date training? Was there CCTV? Was cash on site kept to a minimum? Was time-delay in use? And is the cash traceable? In other words, did the business take adequate steps to prevent crime happening in the first place?
These principles have been embodied in a joint initiative between the police and the security industry in the form of Raid-Control. Backed by the BSIA and BRC, the aim of the security package is to deter crime, but the equipment can also provide evidence to convict criminals.
Raid-Control was piloted in Croydon, Surrey following a spate of violent robberies at pharmacies in the borough. Nineteen premises were fitted with the equipment and a staff training package was put in place. None has been a victim of robbery since. Kevin Hitch, the Crime Prevention Officer who managed the pilot, says: “Raid-Control has had a significant impact in Croydon. This pilot could be the launch pad for a national initiative because this is the sort of proactive policing that benefits everyone.” Following the success of the Croydon pilot, Raid-control is now being trialed by the Greater Manchester Police.
Equipment is also a valuable weapon in an operator’s security armoury, but getting the balance between security and ease of access is not always easy. C3S Security Systems, part of the C3S Group, is a company that is increasingly involved in the provision of physical protection for forecourt staff. It has recently installed a glazed security counter for a large number of national chains, and has also launched a new night pay station which incorporates security while still meeting the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, due to come into force in October this year.
The company is currently involved with two forecourts in Nottingham, where it has provided a full ballistic counter and night pay area with rising screens, new counters, automatic doors and security entry systems using its Seritz locking system. Jeremy Crowther, sales and marketing manager at C3S Security Systems, explains: “The growth in demand reflects the changing crime statistics, and leaves our company in a unique position offering bespoke solutions combining security and taking account of the introduction of forthcoming DDA legislation.”
The combination of partnerships and effective security equipment can do much to protect operators from the scourge of crime. Simple steps such as ensuring there is adequate lighting and closing lanes during risk periods to force exposure to cameras can help reduce opportunities for theft and violence. In addition, a little imagination can also highlight weaknesses in security strategies. Says Schuck: “People really need to walk their businesses and say, if I were a potential thief what would I see as the easiest way to do it, and then take steps to block that.”