The new landscape of retail

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SND-UK takes a look at the new landscape of retail post lockdown and details how body worn cameras may be the solution to violence and harassment of workers 

Crimes of violence against shopworkers should never be tolerated, however as the world entered into a series of lockdowns during the largest pandemic we have witnessed in recent history, the public took their anger out on key workers, predominantly retail staff. Due to the pandemic, frontline retail employees were subsequently tasked with ensuring that shoppers adhered to UK social distancing rules and wore face coverings. 

All too often, retail workers have faced threats, abuse and assault as they go about their job. A recent BRC report reveals the true scale of what is becoming a significant and growing problem. According to the report, more than 150,000 incidents of abuse and violence occur every year – that’s 455 incidents every day – with 90% of retailers now identifying the abuse of their staff as a top issue. 

The pandemic appears to have escalated and normalised anti-social behaviour against shop workers to such an extent that retailers now want action. To combat the rising tide of violence, retailers want abuse against shop workers to become a statutory offence. The hope is that this will improve the prosecution and reporting of such crimes – which typically occur when shopworkers are simply enforcing the law by undertaking, for example, age-restricted sales checks.

 

The pandemic appears to have escalated and normalised anti-social behaviour against shop workers to such an extent that retailers now want action

In June, a new report by the Home Affairs Committee called for a stronger policing response to tackle the escalating problem of unacceptable violence against shop workers. It also recommended the creation of an Employers Charter that sets out how employers should support and protect staff. While many retailers have already grasped the benefits of implementing fixed video surveillance to protect their public-facing staff and stock, recent advancements in body worn camera technologies now offer significant advantages when it comes to keeping people safer. 

In recent years, body worn camera technology has evolved to become a truly wearable technology that is ideal for accurately recording incidents and keeping front line workers safer when dealing with members of the public. 

Police forces have long recognised the benefits of utilising body cameras to provide reliable evidence, maintain public perceptions and confidence in law enforcement legitimacy, and prevent crime. Individuals often change their behaviour towards officers when they know they are being recorded, which in turn can help prevent certain situations from escalating. Captured video provides corroborating evidence of how events unfolded and can also be used to train personnel in the best strategies to use in challenging situations.  

In recent years, body worn camera technology has evolved to become a truly wearable technology that is ideal for accurately recording incidents 

Initially reserved for law enforcement, there have been some major developments since the technology was first introduced two decades ago. Today’s body cams are smaller, lighter, offer better performance and greater reliability, and are considerably more versatile than before.  

In particular, new high speed data connectivity and more advanced features such as two-way audio, geo-tagging, and alarm features have all added to the effectiveness today’s commercial body camera wearers enjoy. 

The arrival of body cams supported by cloud-based connectivity makes it commercially realistic for retailers to implement these highly advanced cameras on affordable long-term subscriptions. The use of a cloud infrastructure means it’s now possible to manage a large number of cameras online – all of which can be monitored from a control room. In the same cloud video management platform, video from both fixed cameras and body cameras can also be reviewed, instead of having different applications for each. 

Cloud-based video surveillance makes it possible to access and share video anywhere, receive real-time alerts the moment an incident is detected, and undertake real-time remote viewing and direct-to-cloud recording. By streaming live video to a monitoring or security operations centre and using geo-tagging, retailers are able to provide their users with immediate response and support. 

By utilising today’s professional-grade body camera services, retailers can both improve staff safety and accountability, and instantly provide valuable evidence to the police. Plus, the integration of analytics and AI technologies has enabled the creation of truly smart solutions that can track and interpret video to provide insight across an increasing range of use cases. All of which makes it possible for security managers to receive alerts under specific circumstances, against certain rules, or when those wearing the cameras wish to trigger one. 

The benefits 

Cencuswide conducted research that reveals 75% of retail staff have encountered a scenario at work that made them feel at risk of physical abuse, 88% frequently feel unsafe at work and only 32% would call their manager for help if they felt they needed it. 

Moreover, the statistics give insight into the types of safety measures that retail staff need and would benefit from to protect them from receiving physical or verbal abuse. Retailers, such as Boots and Co-op have recently started trialling and implementing body worn cameras into their stores in an effort to decrease violent and abusive behaviour towards their staff. 

Body worn video technology can help retail staff to feel safer at work with the camera acting as a deterrent to possible abusive altercations with members of the public, as well as providing vital evidence should an incident occur. Here are some of the main advantages for retailers to invest in body worn camera technology. 

Evidence capture: Captures both video footage and audio recordings that can be used for evidential purposes, and this is done by ensuring that the cameras are mounted on a person which provides better angles than CCTV. Face identification, which is particularly useful at capturing the person’s identity, acts as proof of evidence about the person committing the abuse. This level of evidence makes it easier to gain a conviction. 

When the cameras are then linked with the Peoplesafe Pro app, retail workers can raise an SOS alarm to support them if they are experiencing physical or verbal abuse. This means that they can get help during the incident as well as having evidence available for criminal proceedings. For more information on our joint solution, click here. 

Customer behaviour: Body worn cameras are designed to be overt and obvious in an effort to dissuade people from being verbally and physically abusive towards workers, as nearly a quarter of retail workers have reported a form of abuse whilst at work, especially supermarket workers. 

The presence of a body worn camera alone helps to reduce verbal and physical abuse to lone workers because people are aware that they are being recorded. A unique feature of some cameras is that they have a front facing screen so members of the public can see that their actions / behaviours are being recorded. This feature acts as a deterrent from possible offences, as the person can clearly see that if they were to commit verbal or physical abuse, the camera would collect evidence of the offender. 

Portable: Unlike CCTV cameras that are in fixed positions, body worn cameras are mobile and designed to be carried around by shop workers hands-free, allowing them to capture video footage anywhere in the store. 

When paired with the Peoplesafe Pro App, the wearer of the bodycam can also raise an alarm which will be received by our Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC). Similar to the camera, the app is portable, so unlike traditional panic buttons that are under the counter or in a fixed location in the store, staff are able to get help wherever they are. 

Training: As well as being used for evidence, the recorded video footage can be used internally as training for retail workers; either in gaining insight into possible encounters that they might experience or learning how to handle that situation, should a similar one occur. This would also allow the retail workers’ peace of mind to know that they have a device that works in an emergency and can back up their side of the story, should they need it. 

From a business perspective, using footage of a real-life incident provides cost-effective and relevant training material that all members of staff can learn from. It is valuable evidence for store managers to use to drive positive safety changes in the work environment. 

Monitor large scale: Due to their portable nature, body worn cameras are able to act as surveillance for large areas on the shop floor that might not be captured by CCTV. Theft in the retail industry is a big problem: in 2019, retail establishments lost £700 million as a result of customer theft, as shown in the British Crime Survey. Equipping staff with body worn video technology enables more areas of the store to be covered and provides different angles to monitor products. 

Improving customer service: If staff feel safer at work, retailers are likely to see an increase in efficiency and customer service. Having a body worn camera diffuses the majority of aggressive situations by its sheer presence allowing store colleagues to feel more at ease and focus their attention on the customers themselves. 

Additionally, in the event of an incident, having a personal safety device in place will reduce the level of trauma suffered by the victim. The outcome will always be better with a personal safety solution to support people experiencing abusive and anti-social behaviour. 

Although the mask mandate has been lifted across retail, some businesses are continuing to ask their colleagues and customers to wear masks to increase the level of protection in their stores. Similarly, traffic light systems and capacity limits are still being employed in certain locations. It has been suggested that body worn cameras can help to manage any potential abuse faced by retail workers enforcing mask wearing and managing queueing systems. 

Furthermore, staff attendance rates have fluctuated due to workers needing to isolate since the pandemic, which has created an issue for retail stores when they are understaffed. The body worn camera paired with the Peoplesafe app ensures safety and efficient communication between the workers that are in, if they feel more vulnerable or that their workload and resources are being stretched more than usual. 

Commentary: Rishi Lodhia, EMEA MD at Eagle Eye Networks 

The pandemic appears to have escalated and normalised anti-social behaviour against shop workers to such an extent that retailers now want action. To combat the rising tide of violence, retailers want abuse against shop workers to become a statutory offence. The hope is that this will improve the prosecution and reporting of such crimes – which typically occur when shopworkers are simply enforcing the law by undertaking, for example, age-restricted sales checks. 

The adoption of body cams has been on the increase in sectors like healthcare and in-home service workers to dissuade aggression, improve accountability and reduce false acquisitions. Usage has been accelerating as a result of the pandemic, and commercial body cam usage in sectors like retail is now emerging to help deter unacceptable behaviour and criminal acts. 

Sadly, encountering violence and aggression from members of the public is becoming the daily reality for millions of UK shopworkers. Fortunately, body cams and high quality video that are designed to protect front-line teams and create safe and secure settings for shoppers. 

Enabling retailers to exercise their duty of care for employees and to deter the escalating levels of violence and intimidation they face, today’s cloud-connected body cams can help defuse flashpoint situations when, for example, customers know they are going to be filmed and that what they say and do will be made available to the police as evidence. By empowering staff to conduct their duties in the knowledge that they are supported in everything they do, retailers can leverage this powerful technology to better protect employees, shoppers and the wider community. 

Chris Wooten, Executive Vice President, NICE 

The volume of data necessary to solve crimes continues to rise across the UK and sharing information quickly is instrumental in solving cases. With this in mind, NICE has launched its NICE Investigate Digital Evidence Management solution, which is now helping connect businesses and police forces. NICE Investigate enables them to work collaboratively on investigations to speed the delivery of justice, by ensuring fast, seamless sharing of CCTV video and other digital evidence. Two major retailers have already embraced the initiative by registering their thousands of CCTV cameras with the NICE Investigate system. 

The need for businesses and police forces to work together is greater than ever. The volume of crime is rising and getting digital evidence into the hands of police investigators can be a time consuming, drawn out, manual process, requiring officers to travel to the business location to copy and collect the evidence. With lean budgets and forces short-staffed, time is limited. NICE Investigate helps businesses and police forces break through this log-jam by removing the time-consuming manual processes. 

NICE Investigate provides a great opportunity for police forces and businesses to work together to ensure the swift collection of evidence allowing the police to bring offenders to justice as effectively as possible.

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Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, Security Portfolio[2]

Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922
Email: editor@securitynewsdesk.com[3]

References

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