In his latest blog for Infologue.com, Stuart Lodge, Chief Executive of Lodge Service, discusses technology and the role of manned guarding. Stuart writes: “As the security industry goes increasingly ‘hi-tech’, many pundits are calling into question whether security guards or other on-site security staff will be required at all in retail and other sectors in ten or so years.
“Will electronic systems and remote monitoring – and perhaps the use of drones and autonomous robots – make manned guarding, quite literally, redundant?
“Certainly, new security and internet technology has reduced the need for security manpower and driven down operational costs for retailers. There are secondary gains too, such as in the invaluable system data that has become available – for security, facilities management, marketing and other uses.
“However, there are areas where the experience and expertise of an on-site security operative is invaluable – and irreplaceable – in helping to resolve some of the key security issues that continue to plague retailers in particular.
“Let us look at the role of the store detective.
“Retailers still fight a rising tide of theft, according to figures from the BRC Retail Crime Survey for 2013. Last year saw the highest level of crime for nine years. The average cost of theft increased by 6 per cent to £177 for each incident. Stealing is becoming more sophisticated and better planned.
“This demands a high level of security intelligence in-store to identify where and how thieves operate, as well as for vulnerability testing, test purchasing and compliance checks. It needs someone who can observe, recognise patterns of criminal behaviour and move around in-store, between aisles and through crowded stores, to detect theft.
“Store detectives also create a safer retail environment by stopping promptly bag snatchers and others criminals who prey on shoppers. That makes a difference to footfall and the retailer’s bottom line.
“Overall, they offer a highly cost-effective security counter-measure when properly deployed and managed.
“The experience at Lodge Service is that detective teams can provide an average of 40 per cent Return On Investment on contract costs through goods recovered and civil recovery proceedings in Court. This legal remedy enables retailers to recoup losses and the related costs of investigation and management time.
“To get the maximum return from retailers’ investment in store detectives requires experience and expertise in recruiting, managing and deploying teams.
“The team must be large enough to enable regular shift rotation of staff in-store, so that criminals cannot easily recognise individuals by sight.
“Also, team members should be able to mix inconspicuously with shoppers according to the locality, store and department. This means that staff are recruited from a range of age groups and ethnic backgrounds.
“Specialist training is essential to learn how to spot where professional criminals are operating – when CCTV alone may fail to detect an incident.
“This is particularly the case with staff theft, a growing problem for retailers. It demands a detailed understanding of shop practices to identify criminal activity, such as when staff are handling credit cards and cash at the point of sale, or when products are moved internally.
“Keen observation skills and a good memory are paramount for store detectives, both to spot criminal activity and avoid false detentions – which can be costly in compensation payments – whilst all the while looking inconspicuous amongst shoppers.
“A shoplifter might for example try on a shirt and then put their own jacket over this and leave the store – so the detective must remember what the shopper was originally wearing.
“Similarly when customers are trying on fashion accessories, the detective has to distinguish display goods from a shopper’s own bracelet, scarf or belt for example.
“Security staff must spot where a shopper swaps pricing labels on a targeted product for a lower cost item – another recurring crime. Also if goods are substituted illegally: where the criminal makes a legitimate purchase and then returns to the store with the receipt; selects an identical item and goes to the customer service area to request a cash refund.
“There is a growing incidence of fraud where individuals deliberately intend to look as though they are shoplifting – but without actually stealing. They then later seek legal redress for wrongful arrest and can win as much as £5000 in a civil action.
“To counter this and other incidents of fraud and theft, detectives are trained to monitor a suspect’s activity over prolonged periods leading up to, during and after an incident of suspected criminality.
“Procedures have to be regularly updated in response to new patterns of crime, legal precedents, and changes in retail practices and in-store technology. Two training instructors at Lodge Service continually tour the UK, to ensure that detectives are well versed in the latest methods of surveillance, detection and apprehension.
“Some detectives specialise in dealing with particular types of crime that are a recurring problem in busy stores or shopping centres. ‘Purse dipping’ is one example, involving theft from a handbag that is left briefly unattended in a store when a shopper is trying on clothes or shoes.
“These are all instances where the use of technology alone may not identify and prevent theft. The danger is that where there is a security weakness and criminals detect that vulnerability then they are likely to repeat offend – and advertise this through criminal networks.”
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