Retail Week Columns

Political correctness may stop me protecting my staff

Data protection laws mean Iceland may be banned from sharing information about violent shoplifters with other retailers

Last week was slightly below average for Iceland. We only suffered 12 physical assaults on our staff, bringing the total for the past 10 months to 490, of which 208 resulted in colleagues being hurt.

Assaults included 110 involving use of a weapon – usually a knife, often a hammer or hypodermic needle, and in one case a machete.

Just the other day a store was robbed at gunpoint, while last week a store manager was hit with a hammer resulting in a fractured skull and broken ribs. He spent three days in hospital.

Iceland isn’t unique in this, it’s simply a consequence of running smaller stores.

It’s virtually unknown in superstores with larger numbers of staff but similar size retailers to ourselves suffer the same fate.

Of course we spend millions of pounds on security guards, not primarily to deter shoplifters but to protect our colleagues. Yet there are only marginally fewer incidents in those stores with a security guard than those without.

These assaults are carried out mainly in big cities in the course of a till snatch, ripping a counter cache off the checkout, or as a result of a drunken or drugged-up shoplifter.

Of course overnight break-ins and safe robberies also take place, but don’t often involve violence.

The police are overwhelmed and not too keen to respond.

There are 45 different police forces in the UK and all seem to have a different policy on call-outs.

At one end of the spectrum shoplifting is not seen as a real crime so we hardly ever bother reporting it. If we did it would soon distort the nation’s crime figures. But even when a member of staff is threatened with a knife it tends to be ignored by the police: a 999 call might result in someone popping round the next day.

If this were to happen outside on the pavement I guess the offender would be charged with attempted murder.

So it’s not surprising that we go to great lengths to protect our staff.

Our security guards were issued with body cameras four years ago and this had a dramatic effect in reducing incidents. We liaise with other retailers and we share information.

This includes the setting up of a private Whatsapp group to share photos of known offenders.

Most shoplifters are repeat offenders and when thrown out of one store will usually try their luck down the street.

Surprisingly, we are being taken to task on this by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Government body that oversees data protection compliance.

We have been in correspondence with them for some time and have even sent them a list of all the serious incidents we have suffered over the past year.

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