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Steve Woolrich: Invest in your staff to reduce business crime

Many people consider downtown the heart of their city. We might also refer to it as the core or central hub where residents, workers and visitors like to congregate, shop, eat, and access a wide range of services.
The Greater Victoria skyline. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Many people consider downtown the heart of their city. We might also refer to it as the core or central hub where residents, workers and visitors like to congregate, shop, eat, and access a wide range of services.

Now add crime to the mix and there is little wonder why our downtown businesses, and many others in Victoria are frustrated, and fearful.

In 2018, Jeff Bray took the reins as the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, and has been voicing his concerns about a downtown in crisis ever since.

In 2019, he accepted a co-chair role with the Coalition to End Homelessness. This man seems to be doing everything he can to soften the curve as it relates to crime and disorder in the heart of our city.

Downtown businesses have taken a major gut punch due to the pandemic, and this has created more opportunity for criminal activity. Will property crime, violence and disorder continue or are there more alternatives we can explore?

Over the course of almost two decades, preventing crime and loss was my sole responsibility for many Co-op retailers in Central Alberta, and other clients. Developing proactive responses for business is critical, and requires a lot more than a security guard at the front of a store or a camera system.

A flurry of innovative strategies is required to stay out of the crosshairs of criminals.

While some larger businesses can afford security personnel, many can’t — especially with a global pandemic still lingering.

Loss prevention comprises the anticipation, recognition, and appraisal of a potential risk and the initiation of action to remove or reduce the threat. Simple, right?

In a special report by Loss Prevention Magazine titled “Retail is forging ahead transformed by pandemic,” Karl Langhorst, an asset protection executive and adjunct criminal justice professor, says “the biggest permanent change COVID-19 will have on all aspects of the loss prevention industry will not be from a policy perspective.

Loss prevention executives and their teams will need to fully embrace and promote a flexible, analytical, and innovative spirit like never before in order for their survival and that of the organizations they serve.”

While many businesses think that more visible police patrols and security will drastically reduce their risk, it can actually create a false sense of security. We had a saying in the Cooperative Retailing System — staff are the first and best line of defence!

Just think, it’s like having more eyes on the street, only it’s internalized. Do the math, and try building more capacity through educating your employees and heightening their awareness.

Investing in your employees can have a dramatic impact. Teach them about loss prevention and how to protect assets. Focus more on improving customer service, it’s the lifeblood of any successful organization, everything flows from it, and is nourished by it.

If staff are taught to recognize risk factors and safely respond to incidents developing in real time, it sends a clear message that your business is not an easy target.

Over the years there have been some highly successful programs addressing business crime. While some have been driven by police services, there are others that are retail driven, with various loss prevention personnel collaborating with one another. The Edmonton police established their first concept of Cooperative Policing in 1983, and it’s still active today.

Bruce McIndoe of WorldAware Inc., an integrated security risk management firm, suggests that “we may need to rethink exactly what store security is. The nature of storefront security is moving outside, and new risks associated with curbside pickup is substantial.”

More grab and runs, and a surge in organized retail crime may be on the horizon. While criminals constantly adapt, and recognize opportunities, so must we. Businesses are hurting and their bottom lines are suffering.

A well-balanced plan to protect your business is always a good investment. We’ve become so dependent on other resources like police, security and technology that we sometimes overlook what’s right in front of our faces – our employees.

Steve Woolrich is a crime prevention practitioner and the principal of Rethink Urban’s collaborative focusing on community safety and well-being.

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