New research reveals a growing concern among retailers about the impact of criminal activity on staff amid calls for a ‘responsive and resourced’ police, courts and penal system in this country. Maev Martin reports.
According to the research, which was conducted by Amárach Research on behalf of Netwatch Security, 64% of the businesses surveyed were victims of crime in the past year and 24% cited staff intimidation or abuse as the most common form of criminal activity they had experienced.
In total, 255 completed interviews were conducted with decision makers across a wide range of organisations countrywide from 24 May to 21 June 2023.
The research also shows that criminal activity had profound psychological and physical effects on staff members of the businesses affected, and was more prevalent in customer-facing sectors, including retail, forecourt, wholesale, hospitality, health and social care.
Fear and stress among employees were the leading concern of businesses asked about the impact of criminal activity – this was 35% in customer-facing sectors compared to a national average of 30%.
A total of 30% experienced a loss of staff or a need for leaves of absence due to criminal activity in customer-facing sectors compared to a 23% national average across all sectors.
There was also a higher incidence of physical injuries in customer-facing sectors, at 18% versus 13%.
Intimidation Or Abuse
Looking to the future, staff intimidation or abuse is the most concerning form of criminal activity – it was mentioned by 56% of businesses in customer-facing sectors such as retail and forecourt outlets, which is 19% higher than the national average across all sectors.
This is the first time that staff intimidation or abuse has appeared in the Netwatch research and is a significant concern for organisations, particularly those with over 50 employees, where 42% of this cohort cited it as an issue.
“As owners and managers we should be able go home in the evenings safe in the knowledge that our staff are taken care of when they’re at work,” said Sinead Nolan, owner and manager of Nolan’s Spar Ballon, Co Carlow.
“They need to know that we have done all we can to provide a safe working environment for them.
"As retailers, particularly any businesses dealing with the general public, we need to do everything that we can to deter criminals, and in the instances out of our control, we need to create a supportive environment for staff during and after any criminal incident.
"Not only is it our duty of care, but it makes business sense, reducing staff turnover and maintaining our reputation in the community.”
Leisha McGrath, a work and occupational psychologist who reviewed the report, said that the personal and psychological safety of employees should always be of concern for employers, especially where there is any risk of criminal activity or socially undesirable behaviour directed at them.
“There is a direct correlation between an organisation actively ensuring a culture of safety and support, and its ability to attract, engage and retain staff,” she said.
“No one should ever feel unsafe at work. Safe and supported employees are more productive, and are more likely to stay with the organisation, and to speak positively about their employer outside of work.”
Headquartered in Carlow, Netwatch Group’s proactive video monitoring employs expert intervention specialists to visually identify and address suspicious behaviours and intruders in real time with live audio warnings.
Colin Hayes, Netwatch managing director for Ireland and UK, said that the report reveals a marked increase in those who perceive security as an essential or high business priority.
The Cost Of Crime
“In this year’s survey, crime is reported to be costing business over €30,000, but the unseen, human impact is becoming evident through staff absence and loss of staff due to negative events,” he said.
“That customer-facing organisations such as retail and forecourt are taking supporting staff seriously is a positive step for Irish business.
"In today’s climate of near full employment, it also makes good business sense.
"Doing all we can to support staff by, where possible, preventing or deterring criminals, and helping employees during and after negative events is in everyone’s best interests.”
The findings of the Netwatch research reflect Central Statistics Office figures which record an unprecedented increase in the level of crime being perpetrated against retailers in the last 12 months.
Recorded crime incidents classed as theft and related offences jumped by 25% to 71,284 in the year to the end of June, while the CSO figures show that theft from shops, which contributed to nearly half of this increase, was up by 27% over the year.
Resourced And Responsive
In its budget submission to government, RGDATA director general Tara Buckley said that “retailers ... require a resourced and responsive Garda Siochana and a Courts and Penal system which have the capacity to quickly and thoroughly process cases.”
She called for adequate funding for the Justice system “to enable the Gardai to actively tackle retail crime” and for the Courts Service and the Prison Service to be equally resourced to play their respective parts in helping to stop crimes against retailers.
RGDATA also called for funding for “an inter departmental and cross agency programme to address juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour.”
The Budget, announced on 10 October, includes funding for 1,000 garda recruits and a major €25 million increase in the garda budget to meet overtime demands, which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe said was to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
He also announced that funding has been allotted for the recruitment next year of 1,000 gardaí and upwards of 250 Garda civilian staff in specialist roles to free up more Gardaí for frontline policing duties.
RGDATA Crime Survey
A survey of RGDATA members published in February of this year revealed that over 95% of shop owners have been victims of crime in the previous 12 months, while over two third of retailers felt more vulnerable in their shops than they did in the past.
The owners of over 400 convenience shops, forecourt stores and supermarkets throughout Ireland responded to the RGDATA Crime Survey, which highlighted the serious challenges that local community-based retailers are facing in dealing with high levels of crime each day.
The survey revealed that a staggering 93% of respondents had been victims of shoplifting, 40% had suffered due to fraud in their shops, and 25% had been the victims of robberies/burglaries.
While 58% were satisfied with the response from the Gardai to reports of criminal activity in their shops, most respondents felt that the Gardai could do more to follow up with victims of retail crime.
Retailers commented positively on the Garda response for robberies and acts involving direct violence.
However, they were critical of the Garda response to reports about shoplifting and drive offs.
Retailers in areas where Garda numbers had been reduced said this was having a direct impact on response times and the deterrent factor for criminals.
Retailers were deeply critical of the court system for failing to impose proper sanctions or deterrents against offenders convicted of retail crimes.
There was a strong sense that people charged with crimes against retailers do not receive an adequate sentence for the offence committed and the impact that it has on the business owner.
Many retailers commented that there was a persistent problem with thefts carried out by minors, fuel drive offs and repeat offenders, with the criminal justice system doing little to deter or educate the offender or restore the victim to the status quo before the crime took place.
UK Retailers Demand Action
Some 88 leading UK retailers, including the bosses of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer, have signed a letter to interior minister Suella Braverman demanding action over rising rates of retail crime.
Rising crime is increasingly becoming a political issue in Britain ahead of an expected national election in 2024.
Industry lobby group, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its 2023 crime survey showed that incidents of violence and abuse towards retail workers almost doubled compared with pre-pandemic levels to 867 incidents every day in 2021/22.
It also put the scale of retail theft at £953 million (€1.1 billion), despite over £700 million (€807.9 million) in crime prevention spending by retailers.
‘This situation has clearly got worse; a separate BRC survey of members in 2023 found that levels of shoplifting in 10 major cities had risen by an average of 27%,’ it said.
Released ahead of the start of the ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester on 1 October, the letter outlined two demands from the retail industry to government.
It wants the government to create a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a retail worker, with tougher sentences for offenders. This would require police forces to record all incidents of retail crime.
The industry also wants greater prioritisation of retail crime by police forces across the UK.
Earlier this month, the John Lewis Partnership said that Britain was seeing an ‘epidemic’ of shoplifting, with its own ‘shrinkage’, mainly theft, up by £12 million (€13.9 million) in its first half.
Similarly, clothing chains Primark and Next said their profit margins had been hit by increased theft, while Tesco said that rising store crime had led it to offer its staff bodycams. Aldi is also trialling these devices.