Ensuring safety on the shop floor
Written by: James Atkinson | Published:
(Credit: pexel)

Retailers are facing rising levels of theft, violence and abusive behaviour from the public - body worn video cameras can mitigate the problem, as well as help to increase efficiency and productivity.

More and more retailers in the UK are issuing staff with body-worn video cameras (BWVs). The reasons for this are not hard to find.

Retail staff are facing a rising tide of violence and abuse, while customer theft is also increasing. Despite this, few incidents ever result in successful prosecutions.

Discussing this, a spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – which represents 70 per cent of the UK retail industry by turnover – tells Land Mobile: “Body-worn cameras were introduced to identify those who attack security staff, act as a deterrent to would-be criminals, and protect alleged attackers from false allegations. Body-worn cameras are a useful tool against crime.”

Dismal reading

The BRC Crime Survey 2021, which covers the period from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020, makes for dismal reading. Violence and abuse against retail workers rose from 350 daily incidents in 2016-17 to 455 a day in 2019-20. That is over 165,000 a year, or one every 75 seconds if a typical trading day is taken as nine hours. Forty-five incidents a day involved a weapon.

The BRC reports that only 54 per cent of all the incidents of violence and abuse end up being reported to police and a mere six per cent result in prosecution. Around 155,000 incidents a year are never prosecuted, and the situation is not improving.

“Incidents have soared since the pandemic as staff have tried to ensure customers follow COVID-19 rules,” the BRC said in September. “Other flashpoints include challenging shoplifters or asking customers for ID when they are purchasing age-restricted items. The rise in incidents is despite a record £1.2bn investment in safety measures such as body-worn cameras, more security personnel and panic alarms.”

The BRC has been lobbying the government to pass legislation for England and Wales that would make assaulting or abusing

a retail worker a specific offence, with tougher sentences for offenders. At the same time, the new Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Act 2021, which provides this kind of protection, has already come into force in Scotland.

With that in mind, the BRC is asking Parliament to back an amendment to similar effect in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which received its second reading in the House of Commons in September. In July, CEOs from 100 of the UK’s leading retailers wrote to the prime minister calling on him to support the amendment.

Violence is not the only issue where BWV can help mitigate some of the problems facing the retail sector, however. The BRC Survey also revealed that the cost of retail crime rose to a record £1.3bn in 2019/20, of which customer theft accounted for £935m. Retailers have invested over £1.1bn in crime prevention measures, bringing the total cost to retailers to almost £2.5bn, according to the BRC.

Deterrence and reassurance

The major UK supermarkets clearly believe that issuing staff with BWV can help with some of these challenges. The technology decreases the likelihood of incidents happening in the first place, providing a visible deterrent, and de-escalates situations if they do happen, as people often calm down if they know they are being filmed.

BWV also acts as a deterrent against theft and fraud. The solution can also play a part in making staff feel safer and more valued. Over the past year, the fear of being attacked or abused has been compounded by the fear of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. All these factors are affecting the mental health of retail staff, according to retail trade union Usdaw.

Discussing this, Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, says: “Anxiety about exposure to the virus, the struggle of balancing work with caring responsibilities and a huge increase in customer abuse all take a toll on our members’ mental health at work.”

Asda became one of the first major retailers to introduce bodycams to enhance in-store security back in November 2018. Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and The Coop all started equipping staff with BWV last year, while Tesco rolled out cameras at 1,400 stores in the first quarter of 2021. Boots, Matalan and JD Sports have all followed suit.

Leo Kokaj, Hytera Europe product manager, attributes this rush to deploy BWV to advances in the technology itself. One example of this is the Hytera VM780 and VM580D, which now support Push-to-talk over Cellular (PoC) voice services, along with GPS location services and, of course, video recording, including live streaming on top models.

The usefulness of the technology across retail departments has improved significantly as a result of this, argues Kokaj. The ability to provide PTT communication and recording simultaneously means that security staff, managers and retail employees can use the same platform to synchronise as a unit and better perform their duties.

“Despite the product being more suited to the security in retail, they now provide an all-in-one solution for many departments, with features to suit everyone. Their hi-spec hardware and sensor capabilities are now also enhanced with Android functionality for additional applications,” points out Kokaj.

Body-worn video for security guards tends to require a high level of sophistication to be able to fulfil the needs of the role. And indeed, the technology can offer a wide range of functions to help, including a dedicated PTT button for group communication.

This enables security personnel to notify colleagues and supervisors of any disturbances and contact for backup. The latest models also feature dedicated buttons for video, audio and photo capture, which simplifies use in stressful situations. They also include dedicated emergency buttons, which send an alarm while also triggering a live stream to the control room when an incident occurs, says Kokaj.

FIND OUT MORE: HOW TO BUY BODY-WORN CAMERAS

One potentially very useful feature on some body-worn cameras, particularly when it comes to prosecutions, is the pre- and post-record application. Kokaj explains that when a sharp movement is detected – which could indicate a fight, struggle or knock – the device automatically starts recording, thereby potentially capturing key moments. But as he points out, on many occasions a security guard or retail staff member cannot always capture the full incident on video because of the speed at which it occurs.

The pre- and post-record features may therefore enable the user to capture vital evidence before they actually press the record button or switch it off. BWV can provide secure, admissible evidence of crime for use in court provided the footage is properly managed, stored and protected from tampering.

A number of manufacturers offer full digital data evidence management solutions. Video footage provides hard evidence, which can be used to confirm or contradict the purely verbal testimonies of victims, perpetrators and eye witnesses. The BRC Survey reported that views of the police response to retail crime overall have improved, with 40% now ranking it as fair or good, but this is still well below the 76% positive response received in 2013-14.

Police resources remain stretched, but it may be that BWV will ease the pressure somewhat, as hard video evidence should enable more retail crime incidents to reach court and boost the number of successful prosecutions. Kokaj argues that the flexibility of the newer generation of body-worn cameras means they can also prove useful to other departments besides security. Sales representatives mostly require audio communication, so a camera with PoC capabilities can provide this function and dispense with the need for an additional device.

The video PTT capability also enables a sales representative to quickly and easily check on the availability of specific products within the stock room or warehouse. Usually, a separate device for scanning is also required in the retail sector, but, with the benefit of having an Android platform, this can be integrated into the camera.

"Usage of [BWV} technology can be just as important in logistics as in the security departments”

“Another department in retail is logistics, which is not usually recognised as much as it deserves, but it is the heart of operations in any retail business,” says Kokaj. “The adaptability of the BWV means that logistics departments could save on multiple devices, where it can be used as a communication device with Wi-Fi and LTE (Sim), a GPS tracking device, an evidence collection device and a vehicle dash camera. So, it can be argued that usage of the technology can be just as important in logistics as in the security departments.”

It is also worth noting that the cameras offer additional value, as recordings of situations and workrelated issues can be reviewed and used for training purposes. This can help to increase staff productivity, efficiency and competence.

Looking ahead, Kokaj says: “With the introduction of 5G technology and the high speeds of data throughput, I can see a future where one device is used for everything in the retail industry. By providing all the hardware capabilities, that leaves the users with the flexibility to really push this technology to maximise efficiency in any retail business.”

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