The safe and secure high street

As a hub of social, political and economic activities, the town centre is a central point for many. Unfortunately this can attract undesired activities that threaten otherwise healthy high streets and damage people's perceptions of the town centre. A lack of safety and security can be enough to force businesses to trade elsewhere and shoppers to buy elsewhere.

However, successful efforts are being mounted across the country to improve the safety and security of all town centre users. Here are some of them:

71. Creating a retail-specific crime reduction partnership

Retail crime is a great challenge for the high street. Retailers doing their best to make merchandise attractive and accessible to genuine customers simultaneously become vulnerable to theft. Far from being a victimless crime, it increases the insurance premiums for retailers with costs being passed on to consumers. In a sector where profit margins are traditionally tighter than other sectors, crime can be the difference between a profitable shop and a vacant unit.

Retail-specific crime reduction partnerships have gained popularity because of this. As all shop owners are faced with a common challenge, town centre managers have found it possible to foster cooperation between businesses, police and local authorities, each contributing what they can. These contributions go into infrastructure for information sharing, data recording and the apprehension of offenders.

72. Working with your local crime and disorder reduction partnership

It is rare that offenders discriminate against potential victims. Depending on circumstance and opportunity, anyone can find themselves the target of crime. As such, there is great merit to linking high street-specific crime reduction partnerships with existing partnerships covering wider areas.

The offenders that plague the high street could also threaten surrounding neighbourhoods and residential areas. Sharing information could be a mutually-beneficial activity. Sharing learning experiences and best practice could also be of great use.

73. ShopWatch scheme

ShopWatch is an initiative that unites the police, the retail industry and government to help make shops and town centres safer.

The way it works is shop staff volunteer as ShopWatch Special Constables and carry out patrols during some of their working hours, acting as additional eyes and ears for the police. Their presence seeks to actively deter theft and fraud and discourage anti-social behaviour, as well as offering additional reassurance for shoppers.

The other advantage is that when staff return to undertaking their daily roles in-store they will benefit from a wide range of transferable, security-based skills they have picked up. Skills like assertiveness, conflict resolution, leadership, confidence and management could be useful in difficult circumstances.

74. PubWatch scheme

PubWatch is a community based crime prevention scheme for licensed premises. It is organised by the licensees themselves to afford each other confidence and support, as well as some form of protection. The scheme, at its simplest, is a message-passing link between licensees, the object of which is to combat violence and other criminal conduct.

It also provides better communication between licensees and police and provides a forum for the discussion and solution of problems relating to violence on licensed premises.

75. Community alcohol partnerships

Community alcohol partnerships (CAPs) aim to tackle the problems caused by underage access to alcohol. They work through cooperation between alcohol retailers and local stakeholders, such as Trading Standards, police, local authority licensing teams, schools and health networks.

Central to the operation of CAPs is the sharing of information between partners to combat the purchase and possession of alcohol by those under 18. This is coupled with rigorous enforcement of laws designed to tackle anti-social behaviour. A total of 12 schemes are now in operation in England and Scotland.

76. Retail radio link

With the creation of a dedicated frequency, radios can become a useful tool for linking together the members of a crime reduction partnership. This hands the initiative to those working to reduce anti-social behaviour. These include retailers, licensees, door staff, police and CCTV control rooms who are able to instantly share information on related events in real time.

A scheme can be set up whereby local businesses can rent the necessary audio equipment in order to play their part which could provide the foundation for something financially sustainable.

77. Using online technology for real-time crime tracking

When an offender has been apprehended, details of the offender could be stored electronically so all members of a scheme remain informed of the latest criminal activity. This allows members to identify potential criminals.

With developments in web 2.0 technology, websites can easily be kept up-to-date. This makes displaying real-time crime information for your town centre possible, allowing retailers to be aware of spates of criminal activity as they happen, encouraging vigilance.

78. Re-deployable CCTV capability

CCTV has been useful for defusing crime hotspots. However, criminal activity is often just displaced to other more remote locations. Re-deployable CCTV means the cameras can be relocated so that crime hotspots can be tracked.

79. CCTV video analytics

CCTV with output which is not monitored is effective in viewing events following a crime but less useful in prevention. However, manpower to monitor CCTV output is expensive, and not likely to yield positive results if many cameras are monitored by one person.

One solution is the use of video analytics which uses artificial intelligence to flag up unusual behaviour in an environment. While this method does have limitations, particularly in busy environments, when deployed in the right areas it can be very effective and reduce costs.

80. Making crime reduction visible

Sign demonstrating local crime reduction measures

Sometimes the fear of crime is a bigger problem than crime itself.

Perceptions can often lag behind reality, leaving town centre managers, local authorities and elected members with the challenge of convincing people their high street is safe.

Town centre managers can therefore do much to bring people back into the high street by making crime reduction visible through media, online communications and newsletters.

81. Community wardens

Using the shared resources of a crime reduction partnership, community wardens in high-visibility jackets can be employed during times when crime and anti-social behaviour is most likely to occur. So long as they are visible, they can have a positive impact on a town centre user's perception of safety and deter potential offenders.

They can also act as liaisons, being a first response to reports of crime and ensuring the local police force are kept fully informed of criminal activity.

82. Member exclusion scheme

Statistics show that thefts from shops are conducted by a small number of repeat offenders. By using a members exclusion scheme many high streets have found they are able to significantly reduce offences such as shoplifting.

This involves the identification of offenders who are caught in the act, maybe by CCTV, and ensuring they are excluded from the premises of all members who participate in the scheme.

83. Safety scheme for lost children

Promoting the safety of children by reuniting them with their parents could do a lot to put the minds of young families at rest. During busy shopping periods where it is easy for children to lose their parents, participating shops can be used as meeting points. ‘Caring traders' could provide lost children with a place to stay until they are reunited with their family.

This idea was implemented in Weston town centre where free child wristbands have been circulated. Each wristband bears two emergency contact numbers specific to the child. Each ‘caring trader' can be identified through relevant promotional material and branding in the shop window.

Safe Child Schemes - on the website of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

84. Penalty notices and fixed penalty notices

Penalty notices and fixed penalty notices are both ways of deterring anti-social behaviour with wardens or the local police being able to issue fines. Fixed penalty notices are typically used for litter offences while penalty notices apply to disorders. Failure to pay a fine would result in court action with a significant increase in that fine becoming likely.

It is important that genuine repeat offenders are carefully targeted using such a scheme, as there is the potential for bad publicity if the wrong person is issued with a notice or taken to court. If used appropriately, it can help to curb the behaviour of those who can make a town centre unwelcoming without the level of bureaucracy involved in pushing for criminal convictions.

85. Case studies

Cynon Valley Business Crime Reduction Partnership

This partnership between the local authority, police and businesses was established to reduce crime and the fear of crime in Aberdare town centre. It has a particular focus on cutting violence in the night-time economy.

A business crime coordinator was appointed, enabling information on crimes and criminals to be shared between all partners on a regular basis. The use of photographs of target criminals soon led to arrests and an exclusion scheme being set up to bar offenders from members' premises.

The project now encompasses many fee-paying businesses, whose contributions have paid for a radio link system and enabled the launch of a safe child scheme. Night economy initiatives, including a successful application for Home Office funding for high-visibility policing and the purchase of unbreakable plastic glasses for town centre pubs and clubs, made a significant contribution to reducing violence over the festive season.

Rochdale's Safer Communities strategy

This wide ranging project led by Rochdale Town Centre Management has been designed to reduce crime and the fear of crime under the banner, 'Everyone is safe and feels safe'. By working with the borough council, police, safer communities and regeneration partnerships, an impressive list of initiatives have been delivered and publicised in the media to ensure a positive impact on public perceptions.

Some of the initiatives introduced include:

  • talking signs placed around the town centre which give warning and reassurance
  • dispersal orders and high-visibility patrols introduced
  • subway murals introduced to enhance perceptions of safety and local pride
  • a magazine distributed to 30,000 people informing them of what business is doing to combat crime
  • local press advertising employed to promote safe venues
  • plaques sited around the town centre to remind visitors that the town has received a Safer Business Award in recognition of its combined initiatives
  • monthly town centre columns in the local newspaper to promote activity.

This determined and sustained drive to promote successful crime reduction measures generated considerable public interest and added to the town centre as a whole. Specific achievements include increased footfall in the newly cleaned and decorated central areas, enhanced pride of place and increased turnover among town centre businesses.

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10 May 2012

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