The Bourne Legacy
Katy Bourne, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ lead on business crime, talks to Loss Prevention Magazine Europe about ‘levelling-up’ and the sharing of good practice.
In its 2019 election manifesto, the UK’s Conservative Party said it would be “levelling-up every part of the UK,” an ambitious, largely economic strategy that would involve, among other pledges, investing in towns, cities, and rural and coastal areas that had been identified as falling behind the more affluent parts of the country, and giving those areas more control of how investment is made.
When it arrived in office in December that year, the new Government was quick to weave the “levelling-up” agenda into the policy narrative and, although majorly sidetracked by the rigours of the pandemic—an issue that itself highlighted some of the major inequalities across the UK—Chancellor Rishi Sunak established a £4.8 billion “levelling-up” fund aimed at these priority “left behind” areas from which each identified region had to bid for cash for infrastructure transport projects.
Many of these forgotten areas were identified in the north of England, partly due to powerful lobbying from “Northern Powerhouse” MPs, but pockets of poverty, breeding grounds for crime and criminality, exist in every seaside location. That’s a view held by the proactive Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Sussex Katy Bourne OBE, the longest-serving female PCC in the UK. During her third term in office (she was first elected in November 2012), Katy remains as passionate as ever about her role of holding her chief constable accountable for the policing priorities for the 1.7 million residents across the south coast county.
Businesswoman Turned PCC
Katy, a former businesswoman who ran a successful dance and leisure company for six years before she sold the business, draws a parallel with the economic levelling-up and that of levelling-up the way business crime is managed, not only in Sussex but across the UK’s forty-two other Police forces.
Her years as a single mother and a business owner have prepared her for this challenge. “At first I got a lot of comments about, ‘How can someone who ran a dance business run a Police force?’” said Katy. “Running and building a business is about managing a team and controlling a budget—strengths that I possess.”
She added, “By the time I sold the business, I had 12,000 adult members on my books. When I was bought out, I thought about going into politics, but when the PCC opportunity came up in 2012, it spoke to me.
“The role of the PCC was the biggest shift in policing in a generation, and I knew with my background and drive I could learn. I knew when I put my manifesto together that business crime would be a major focus.”
This is a particular passion of hers because businesses employ people, pay taxes and business rates, and provide the economic barometer of a region. Crime against these wealth-generating entities impacts the prosperity of an area.
Where there is poverty and deprivation, she argues, there is economic under-investment, and that is not the exclusive preserve of the north.
“Levelling-up and business crime should matter, and it should not all be about the north. Levelling-up should be about all High Streets and coastal towns. In Sussex, for example, there are parts of the county where you know it’s bad because even the charity shops have moved out.”
Attacking Business Crime
Now, as the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, (APCC) lead for business crime, she is trying to deliver an agenda of greater consistency of how business crime is treated.
“Retail environments are so important because they are places where people go to work and pay their taxes, which fund public services—it matters,” she said. “Add the extra dimensions of violence and aggression and you really understand this. One of the shopkeepers I met in Sussex lives above the business where he was attacked and, by definition, he was attacked in his home. We want people to feel safe where they work and where they come to shop.”
Katy explained, “Retail theft is not about the value of the items—it’s a crime and should be treated as such. It could be the gateway crime to more serious offending or funding drugs and the full criminality across county lines. If there was not a market for these drugs, the more serious criminality could not flourish as it does.
“Levelling-up is important, but unless you do it in more of these coastal towns, you are missing the point. It’s the broken-window theory, which is a metaphor for disorder in a community—crime has a huge reputational impact and degrades an area.”
Katy is aware of her force’s strategic priorities—she helped develop them with Chief Constable Jo Shiner, who she is tasked with holding to account—but she is passionate about business crime and preventing the smaller misdemeanours from becoming bigger challenges for the force.
Sussex as a Test Bed
As the national lead PCC on business crime and a member of the National Retail Crime Steering Group (NRCSG)—chaired by Policing Minister Kit Malthouse, Katy is using Sussex as a pilot, or test bed, for several initiatives around retail crime reporting, working in collaboration with her chief constable and the wider retail community.
Under-reporting of crime was one of the first initiatives in Sussex’s petri dish approach, a response to the charge from the wider business community that Police do not respond to shoplifting offences—meaning that business crime is not recorded as a priority, although it is widely seen as a gateway offence into more serious criminality.
Katy witnessed this firsthand when visiting a local store with officers to discuss retail crime with the manager. She was told by one Police officer that the force had received six reports of shoplifting from that store over eight weeks. The reality, however, was that it had experienced more than 800 acts of crime during that period, only six of which had been reported.
One Touch Reporting
To bridge this massive disparity, Sussex Police and the Co-op ran a successful pilot of One Touch Reporting, a technology currently facilitated by the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS) to enable crime to be more easily reported across twenty-two Co-op stores in the county.
The widespread feedback on reporting is simply that “It takes too long” and produces little benefit. The One Touch trial highlighted the difficulties in the current reporting regime, which not only undermines colleague safety but also incurs financial and efficiency costs. Retailers often report that the productivity costs of multiple “keying in” of crime data to satisfy different reporting platforms—Police, BCRP, BIDS, civil recovery, and the business itself—can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. According to the NBCS’s figures, between 5 and 15 per cent of all crime nationally is reported, which obviously has a dramatic impact on successful prosecution rates.
Furthermore, NBCS analysis, based on an average hourly pay rate of £10 per colleague, shows that One Touch reporting could save a business somewhere between several thousand and several million pounds per year in productivity costs, depending upon its size and the number of employees. As a result of the Co-op trial, One Touch reporting reduced the time of a typical report from thirteen minutes to two minutes.
The Co-op’s objective was to build colleague confidence to report. There were obvious fears from Sussex Police that crime figures would go up. “Yes, as a result, recorded retail crime increased by 400 per cent in the last twelve months, but our office worked with the force, with businesses, and the local media to explain the bigger picture context to avoid the ‘Don’t Come to Sussex’ headlines and not to alarm visitors to the county,” said Katy.
In conjunction with the campaign, the new business crime officers were able to identify and target prolific store thieves. By targeting these offenders (the top 20 per cent), they stopped 80 per cent of offences and swiftly secured a number of prosecutions.
The next phase will be to roll out to all Sussex Co-op stores after the force can ensure the increased volume is manageable within existing Police resources.
Katy stressed that there will not be overnight results but a slow culture change that will be measurable in the not-too-distant future—perhaps in the next twelve months.
In her role as the APCC lead on business crime, such initiatives that could also deliver business crime reduction rates across England and Wales are being shared with other force PCCs as examples of “good practice.”
“Police forces are very good at innovating, but they are not necessarily good at sharing,” she explained. “I want to be able to showcase initiatives in Sussex that prove successful and transferable. It’s a measured roll-out of different initiatives based upon proof of concept rather than the old saying of trying to boil the ocean—you can’t do everything at once.”
Keeping Christmas Kind
In the same vein, Katy and her team last year also worked with shops in Sussex, and nationally through the Association of PCCs, to roll out the Keeping Christmas Kind campaign. This was mirrored and extended by the Association of Convenience Stores’ (ACS) national #Shopkind Week in convenience stores across the UK, with the public being reminded to treat store colleagues with respect.
Now the campaign, which will run again this Christmas, has secured Home Office backing across the whole of the UK with the support of other organisations, such as Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), and leading retailers (see #ShopKind article on page 24).
In September, Katy chaired the first meeting of the National Association of PCCs to discuss the initiatives and other programmes such as the preventative rehabilitation of prolific store thieves in the West Midlands, where former drug offenders are being weaned off their habit through retailer-funded detox in the hope that they can become contributing members of society.
“This is a good initiative, but I see it as a transitional project, as those involved have yet to make that move into employment like the kind of models used by James Timpson of Timpson, the shoe repair business owner who goes into prisons to interview and recruit staff.”
However, Katy is looking at funding a number of programmes in Sussex that would engage first- and second-time offenders and help them channel their energies into more constructive and long-term careers in retail.
She is backing projects, including teaching culinary skills like the barista training for inmates at Ford Open Prison in West Sussex.
“You are sent to prison as a punishment, but you want people to be rehabilitated so that they can rejoin society after their sentence and contribute to society once again. They need another chance, which means coming out and being helped with jobs and housing. If they are simply released back into the old areas of offending, they are never going to be able to be productive,” she said.
The PCCs across the UK hold a pivotal position in changing the narrative around business crime, and Katy recognises her role in making this a reality.
“Locally, a PCC will set the policing priorities with the Chief Constable, and this plan must reflect what is important to local people in policing. I have a plan for business crime for Sussex, which I think is important, and it is my job to hold my chief constable to account. We have monthly meetings and webcasts, which the public can tune in to so they can see me doing my job.
“I can now influence other PCCs in helping them set their business crime strategies. At a national level, policing priorities are the responsibility of the Home Secretary, but it is the PCCs who deliver on the local priorities, and I can help showcase good practice examples to my PCC colleagues, which is why Sussex has become a test bed of projects and a microcosm of the whole country.”
At a national level, Katy also works with Superintendent Patrick Holdaway, the newly appointed head of the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC) hosted by the City of London Police, which is the national lead force for fraud and financial crime and the home of Action Fraud.
Patrick also works with other chief constables to highlight examples of good practice and encourage consistent responses to national business crime, including secure methods of electronic reporting that have the potential to save man hours and shoe leather in evidence gathering.
As the longest-serving female PCC in the UK, Katy works with Chief Constable Jo Shiner and her all-female command team.
In addition, the county is ahead of the national average for female recruitment, with more women than men joining Sussex Police during the past year as the national campaign to recruit 20,000 additional police officers surpasses the halfway stage.
The recruitment Uplift campaign has also seen more Black, Asian, and minority ethnic officers employed nationally across forces than at any other time in the country’s history. Those ethnic officers now make up 7.9 per cent of all officers.
In Sussex, 52.7 per cent of new recruits are women, and 10.8 per cent of the student officers are from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Of the more than 11,000 additional officers who have joined the Police as part of the national Uplift campaign, 182 of those were in Sussex, putting the force well on track to reach the March 2022 target of 284 new recruits.
Sussex Police has recruited an additional fifty officers funded by the PCC’s precept in 2020/21 and is on its way to recruiting thirty additional officers funded by the precept this year.
This will bring the total number of officers in Sussex to almost 3,000.
Jo Shiner said, “I am proud of our achievements so far, which have created a more diverse workforce. We remain committed to working hard to ensure our establishment reflects our communities and supports our mission to catch criminals, protect communities, and deliver an outstanding service.”
Katy, a formidable champion of more diverse and representative recruitment to the force, believes toughness and determination play a part as there are still many misogynistic barriers for women to achieve in high office.
“As a single mum, I’ve had to be tough during my career. My children today remind me of how I used to be with them growing up when I was running a business, as I often had to say to them, ‘You just have to deal with it,’” she said.
Rape and Stalking Initiatives
“What gets me out of bed in the morning is making decisions to support people’s lives and the Young Victim and Witness Scheme—a programme for young people going through rape cases in the criminal justice system—is one such project that we have supported. I’ve had people stop me to say, ‘Wow, you’ve helped me to put my life back together.’”
Rape, as has recently been highlighted in the national press, has a very low conviction rate across the UK, and such programmes facilitate victims and witnesses coming forward securely with the knowledge that they will be supported and believed.
“Without this kind of programme, these young people would not be able to face going to court at all,” said Katy.
Stalking is another offence that has galvanised her into action and so far, her programme to protect those who fall prey to unwanted attention is exceeding all expectations.
“When stalking goes wrong, people get killed. It’s as simple as that,” Katy said. “When the Veritas Stalking Advocacy Service programme was put together, the business plan was looking at helping between thirty and fifty people per year. We are now helping 3,000 victims each year—that’s fifty-seven cases per week. We bid for and got Government support and were able to leverage some other funding as well for what is a fantastic service.”
Such high-profile advocacy comes at a cost, some of it personal, as evidenced by the murders of public figures such as MPs Jo Cox and Sir David Amess.
“I have had my fair share of death and rape threats on social media,” Katy said. “Three men have had custodial sentences applied for harassment and stalking me. PCCs are the same as MPs; we meet people in public, which is part of the job. We are, in that respect, subject to the Operation Bridger protocol, which is the UK-wide Police protection programme set up in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder in 2016.”
Although meetings in public and such activities do not deter Katy from continuing her job of trying to make a difference on the local and national stage. “I will run again as long as I can deliver on what we set out to do,” she said. “I have managed to double my majority every time I have stood, and the turnout has been larger. My job is to represent everyone in Sussex, whether they voted for me or not.”
With her APCC role, though, Katy’s mandate now stretches across England and Wales. Having been returned for a third term in 2021, Katy has secured the Police mandate for the next four years, but her legacy in terms of getting business crime on the national agenda continues to gather momentum beyond the rolling Downs and seaside towns of Sussex. Her national portfolio has captured the imagination of other PCCs and forces, which may in turn lead to campaigns that began life in Sussex and later see the light of day in Staffordshire, Surrey, or Suffolk, and all the counties in between.