Reducing crime in Sheffield by protecting ‘vulnerable’ Offenders
Around the country, Business Crime Reduction Partnerships help to reduce low-level business crime and anti-social behaviour. Now, some are working to identify ‘vulnerable’ Offenders as early as possible to reduce future crime…
Sheffield City Council’s Business Crime Team is based in its city-centre CCTV control room. From there it runs the Sheffield Business Crime Partnership, bringing together local retailers and licensees with police and council agencies to help drive down low-level crime and ASB .
The Partnership uses Disc to exchange information about local Offenders – contributed by Sheffield’s CCTV network, local businesses and police – among its Members. It also provides them with access to its city-centre radio system.
Rob Cowley is one of the Team’s City Centre Ambassadors. Being in the CCTV control room gives him unique visibility of what’s happening on the city’s streets and provides images of Offenders. He uses Disc to manage these Offenders, record incidents which might not merit police attention, and share images and names of convicted Offenders (provided through an Information Sharing Agreement with South Yorkshire Police) who represent a threat to Members’ premises, property, staff or customers.
Effective local information-sharing between communities and police is vital
An important part of Rob’s job is to maintain close contact with local businesses on the one hand and, on the other, with relevant public agencies: the police, council and various charitable organisations. His team also works closely with Sheffield City Business Improvement District which supports the Partnership by part-subsidising its radio system and its subscription to the National Business Crime Solution.
The police RCU comprises one dedicated officer – Tony Nicholls – and two volunteers who take statements and collect CCTV footage from retailers. Tony carries BCT’s radios, has direct access to Rob’s Disc system, attends Partnership meetings with local businesses, and shares information with the team under a formal Information Sharing Agreement.
“The Business Crime Team sits between the business community and the police” says Rob, “ensuring that communication keeps flowing between retailers and ourselves, and between ourselves and the police Retail Crime Unit. With our CCTV, together with Disc, we generate a lot of local intel, and make this available to the police.”
Gathering intel about local prolific Offenders to enable police to apply for, and secure, Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBO) is a case in point.
“Our businesses provide reports on activities of known Offenders and the police can take this intel to court to use as evidence in applying for Criminal Behaviour Orders, for example. After a successful application, we can use Disc to share that information back to the retailers – enabling them, in turn, to use Disc to report any breaches of the CBO – but also to demonstrate to them that reporting prolific Offenders through Disc really does protect their businesses”.
Helping to rehabilitate: keeping vulnerable Offenders out of the justice system
For Rob, gathering information about Offenders and submitting it as evidence to support the imposition of suitable criminal sanctions is only a part of the job.
Rob explains: “Maybe even more important is gathering intel so we can identify early-stage or previously unknown ‘vulnerable’ Offenders and use it to help them off what might turn out to be the first rungs of a step-ladder into a criminal career. Very often it is in the retail environment that early-stage Offenders first appear – for shop-lifting for example. Maximum engagement with our businesses is essential to generate a sufficient flow of intelligence to these partners to enable them to initiate appropriate interventions”.
Rob and his team meet monthly with the police, the city’s Drug & Alcohol Team and other Community Safety teams, the local probation service and homeless charities, to help identify young or otherwise vulnerable people involved in low-level crime and anti-social behaviour – not to direct them into the criminal justice systems but to keep them out of it.
“We discuss where the information should go, and whether we should be looking to escalate specific incidents to the police for legal enforcement, or whether non-judicial intervention is more appropriate.
“Criminal enforcement may not always be the best option, perhaps where the Offender is young, or otherwise vulnerable. Where this is the case, we can provide information – through Disc or our CCTV footage – to help our partners consider alternative strategies. Appropriate intervention at this point can help divert the Offender away from crime, and obviously that’s a win-win for everyone”.
Dealing with ‘vulnerable Offenders’ can be a pretty sensitive business and sharing their identities with the businesses that comprise the Sheffield Crime Reduction Partnership may not be appropriate. “In this part of our work we work within Sheffield City’s Vulnerable Young Person Multi-Agency group to provide intelligence which it may not be appropriate for our retailers or licensees to know.
“Knowing that a young person is shoplifting is important of course, but it’s not just CCTV footage or images that matter. With vulnerable Offenders the offence itself may tell us little. It may be more important to identify any pattern in their offending. Or to know what they are stealing – is it likely to be for their own use, or for someone else’s? Are they working alone? Are they regularly associating with other, perhaps older individuals?
“This is all information that helps ensure that intervention is appropriate. Without our input sometimes it’s hard to know.”
Adopting Disc SC: sharing different types of personal information with different types of Users
Sheffield Business Crime Team was among the first to adopt ‘Disc SC’ (Segregated Content) – a variant of the Disc information-sharing system which enables different types of information to be shared only with specific types of recipients.
“We’re using Disc SC not only to share data about convicted Offenders with our city-centre businesses so they can keep an eye on them when they’re in and around their premises, or report them when they’re in breach of a CBP. We’re now also able to share data about, for example, suspected vulnerable Offenders with only those public agencies that have a specific lawful remit, such as the police, of course, but also Community Safety teams and other members of the Vulnerable Young Person Multi-Agency Group.
“We are also creating a separate group specifically to cover the hospitality sector in the city centre, including hotels. Here the types of Offenders may differ from those in shops and licensed premises, and incidents may differ too, for example involving child sexual abuse. Here the identities of Offenders and victims alike need to be restricted to only those with an appropriate legal remit. Disc SC enables us to do this, at the same time as enabling us to share other Offender data with other sections of our membership.”
Find out more about Disc SC here.