Autumn’s nearly here and with the nights drawing in and the festive season just around the corner, commercial burglaries are already on the rise. Daniel Hardy, managing director of National Business Crime Solution (NBCS), identifies the scale of the problem, the reasons behind it and offers some timely advice about what businesses across all vertical sectors can do to prevent becoming victims.

Commercial burglary is an all year round problem but one that peaks around October with the darker evenings, when retailers have more stock, there is a higher density of people on the high street and commercial premises are busier and therefore not as vigilant as they can be. All this increases the overall risk profile, and feedback from NBCS members suggests that commercial burglary has increased from between 22-55 per cent so far in 2017 (across the NBCS membership), when compared to the same period in 2016. Even though this is by no means a definitive figure, it does suggest that this type of nefarious activity is a growing trend and that those with malicious intent see commercial premises as vulnerable.

Deep impact

When considering the impact of a commercial burglary, it’s tempting to focus solely on the items stolen. However, the true cost of this type of crime is more far reaching and includes property damage and repair, loss of trade, customer dissatisfaction, management time in dealing with the issue and colleague time in labour. Then there are the non-fiscal issues to consider such as reputational damage and the fact that employees might feel less safe when carrying out their duties.

Strategic objective

Commercial burglaries tend to fall into one of two types – opportunist or planned. In the former an individual will often enter through an unlocked or insecure door or window, tempted by the sight of unprotected stock, or perhaps a laptop or smartphone that is easily accessible. In the latter, a level of planning and hostile reconnaissance will take place and burglars will have a coordinated strategy – a high profile example being the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Burglary

With so many variables, organisations must carry out a risk and threat assessment to ensure that they are in the best position possible to deal with any real or perceived danger, which can then help to develop a corporate security policy and strategy document. Undertaking an in-depth analysis of an organisation’s activities, premises and facilities means that the risks can be fully understood and acted upon. Just as importantly, regular reviews of existing security programmes and measures are necessary to maintain adequate safeguards.

The sharing of data/intelligence through collaboration is also something that should never be underestimated. A centralised intelligence hub for both the police and business is really starting to connect crimes which would have traditionally been viewed as independent.

Know your onions

Businesses must do all they can to protect themselves, yet all too often they are failing to secure their premises. Rather than trying to cover all elements at once, the way to approach any security strategy is to treat it like an onion with different layers. It’s also worth pointing out that while much of what should be considered appears obvious, it is surprising just how often ignoring one of these seemingly innocuous factors can offer burglars an opportunity.

The first layer of the process is to look at a building’s exterior and identify any vulnerable areas. It is also worth reaching out to neighbours to share best practice and help each other spot any weaknesses or suspicious behaviour – talking can often act as a prompt to address an issue. A building’s exterior should also be clean, so graffiti should be cleaned off, rubbish removed and overgrown vegetation trimmed as not to obscure CCTV and reduce lighting. Bins should also be kept out of sight, as they could act as a climbing aid, particularly for low-level windows.

Access control is vital, so service and fire doors should be locked when not in use and, preferably, not used as an out of hours access point or a way for personnel to exit the building to have a cigarette break. It is advisable to use high quality door frames and doors, steel reinforcing and anti-thrust bolts on doors, and bars on windows, while dropbars and magnetic door locks should be regularly inspected for damage, as should fogging systems. Similarly, grilles and shutters are an excellent way of deterring burglars, and fixing bollards into the ground surrounding a premises will protect against ram-raiders. Planning permission could be required though, so check this before embarking on any work.

Window glass is also available in a number of different formats. Laminated glass in particular is very difficult to break through because it is made by bonding a layer of tough plastic between sheets of glass, and this will hold the window together. If this option isn’t feasible, then an alternative cheaper option is plastic film, which will increase the strength of the glass and, when a ‘mirrored’ option is used, restrict a burglar’s view into rear storage areas.

Cause for alarm

The inventor of the first electromagnetic alarm system in the world is widely credited to be Augustus Russell Pope from Boston, USA, who on 21st June 1853 patented his creation. Since then intruder alarms have become ubiquitous but they are not a fit and forget technology and must be well maintained.

Burglars will often try to overcome an alarm system by cutting the signal and filling exterior alarm bells with substances such as foam to stop them sounding. A common ploy is to set the alarm off repeatedly and wait until the police and key-holders stop responding to it, giving burglars more time to act. If for any reason an alarmed zone is switched off, ensure that it is switched on again and make sure secondary alarm equipment is moved if building layouts change or seasonal displays in retail establishments are put in place.

It is also worth remembering that although traditional alarms may alert staff or passers-by, they offer limited police protection. Due to an increase in false alarms, police forces now will not respond to a ringing bell or siren unless there is evidence of an offence in progress. A monitored alarm can provide a confirmed signal to pass to the emergency services – often a requirement of an insurer. Likewise, a CCTV system must be maintained and be fit for purpose, covering internal and external areas. Recorded images should be set to record for a minimum of 30 days, and stringent codes of practice need to be followed including ensuring the date and time are incorporated into the recording before video evidence can be successfully used in prosecution.

Safe as houses

It makes sense not to leave tills with money in them and to hide expensive stock from view. Safes and secure cages are now available that are fitted with sensors that will set the alarm off if they are opened and, similarly, key security is vital. Only authorised staff should have access to certain keys or combination locks and these individuals must thoroughly understand their responsibilities for locking and securing fastenings on windows and doors, offices, safes, rooflights and other exits.

Although cybersecurity should be on the radars of all organisations, it is worth remembering that access to servers and other IT equipment must also be restricted in order to secure vital data. Just as importantly, any internet protocol (IP) based devices including CCTV, access control and intruder alarm systems should be secured in order to thwart hackers.

Train to gain

A security strategy can only be successful if everyone within an organisation is given the correct level of training, so that they can keep a watchful eye out for suspicious behaviour. The saying that ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’ is relevant in this respect as it is often those at front of house – such as receptionists – who are in a prime position to monitor and identify any questionable behaviour.

Retail environments should adopt an ‘intelligent guarding’ approach that combines technology, and the data produced by it, with people who can deal with the outputs of these systems. Knowledge about counterterrorism, loss prevention, report writing, behavioural analysis and profiling, health and safety, data and intelligence gathering, first aid, as well as excellent customer service, is now vital for the modern manned guard, as is the ability to work as part of a team with non-security based personnel.

Learning a lesson

In the unfortunate event that an organisation experiences a commercial burglary, the most positive thing it can do is to learn from it and ensure that measures are put in place to stop it happening again. As demonstrated, this doesn’t have to involve large amounts of capital expenditure, but preventative security using a common sense approach is the only way to maintain a deterrent effect that will reduce the likelihood of criminal activity.

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