Following a steady flow of reports of increasing security incidents the association convened the ACAPMA Retail Security Forum to gather retailers experiences of this disturbing trend and explore response options.
At the recent meeting of the Security Forum this week members concurred that there has emerged two distinct situations; increasing general aggression and isolated incidents in retail nationwide (tied to and exacerbated by COVID) and a very concerning and widespread increase in violent conduct and wanton and indiscriminate destruction of property in the Northern Territory.
Like much of general retail, in recent months ACAPMA members have reported a noticeable increase in security incidents onsite. These range from general aggression, shop lifting and fuel theft, right up to what can only be described as rioting on the forecourt.
“While much of the increase in general aggression, and even some altercations, can be clearly linked to COVID restrictions and customer fatigue and frustration with COVID generally, other incidents don’t appear to be related to COVID at all” explains ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.
As outlined here (https://acapmag.com.au/2021/10/growing-security-incidents-at-servos-member-forum-invitation/) the increase in general aggression attributable to COVID is a real and present risk that has resulted in threats of violence to staff that are simply seeking customers comply with government restrictions. This general aggression, threats and occasional altercation can quickly escalate, as was seen in the case in Germany where a service station attendant was shot and killed in September for asking a customer to wear a mask.
The ACAPMA Retail Security Forum committed to continuing the roll out projects to address the nationwide general aggression, however it was agreed that the situation in the Northern Territory is so pressing that it needs to be addressed now and should be the short term focus of the Forum.
“The experiences and statistics shared by Forum members was, in a word, shocking. One national retailer shared that while there has been a 15% increase in security incidents Nationwide, there has been a more than 300% increase in security incidents in the small number of NT sites they operate. This experience was echoed by all attendees” explains Mark.
Compounding this is the fact that these security incidents are more than just an increase in shoplifting, which the Forum concurred is characterised in the NT as uniquely brazen, open and combative.
“While there has been an increase in shoplifting there has been a marked increase in violent incidents. Many examples of serious wilful and wanton destruction of property, including doors, windows and even pumps and DG safety systems were experienced by Forum members. These wild violent incidents have been experienced when the sites are locked due to locked door or night pay policies” continued Mark.
“What is the most disturbing is the evidence of targeting of staff. Several Forum members outlined incidents where offenders have returned to site to target particular staff who have locked the doors on them in the past or who have contacted the police. This targeting includes verbal abuse and damage to personal property, and in some cases physical violence . In several cases staff vehicles have been damaged, and in one appalling case a staff member was followed home and suffered an assault following calling the police to deal with an incident onsite earlier in the day” adds Mark.
The standard response of the industry to security incidents onsite is non confrontational and places a premium on staff safety over property protection. This standard response leans on locked door or controlled entry / night pay as a response at night and contacting police to respond onsite where there are incidents.
“What is concerning is that this standard response is not reducing the number or nature of the incidents in the NT situation, to the contrary what Forum members are seeing is that locking the doors is quickly escalating the random and indiscriminate damage being done to the facility. This is not just a security risk to the staff member onsite, it is also a risk to the community and the environment as damages are being done not only to the community critical fuel supply facilities, but also to the safe storage elements” outlines Mark.
The industry has explored novel responses to these security incidents with many Forum members exploring dedicated security staff, not only to secure the site as broken windows are replaced or during staff entry and exit from site, but also during ordinary trading hours, however the effectiveness of this expensive response has been almost universally disappointing.
“Most Forum members have tried using private security, but the nature of the incidents has not changed or abated, despite the high cost of this intervention” says Mark.
The Forum is focused on not only bringing together instances and experiences, but also driving engagement and best practice responses. All members concurred that the situation in the NT is unique, though it was noted that Broome WA appears to be following a similar pattern, and that the Police are doing their best within the current frameworks, but that something more has to be done and it is not something that the industry can address alone.
“While the industry understands that NT police resources are constrained and must rightly be focussed on serious crime, the nature of the security incidents is of concern, and if left unaddressed could result in physical harm to staff and/or customers. The extent of the current problems also means that any failure to address these issues will increase the business costs of fuel retailers across the board and put upward pressure on fuel prices in the Northern Territory” outlines Mark.
As a result ACAPMA is calling for a tripartite Task Force that brings together NT Government and Police with Industry and Community Groups to explore responses to this disturbing violent crimes that is threatening staff, DG control systems and these community critical businesses before there is further escalation.
Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)