Victoria Police are considering introducing a new charge to tackle the rising incidence of ‘swarming’.
Usually aimed at telco retailers and electronics stores, ‘swarming’ sees a couple or numerous offenders enter a retail outlet en masse to steal valuable items like mobile phones.
It often involves a level of force that sees products ripped from displays and leaves store associates and customers traumatised in its wake.
Traditionally, retailers have tried to balance security with the customer experience and a security display product that alarms when tampered with has been seen to be sufficient, however that view has recently changed given the impact of the swarming. Alarms are often now not sufficient in high target areas. So, how can retailers better protect their stores and their staff against this growing threat?
Earlier this year, A Current Affair illustrated the violent nature of the shoplifting tactic that is swarming. In an investigation into rising incidents, they showed vision of groups of people running into telco outlets, grabbing mobile phones and ripping them from displays, before fleeing.
The story noted the crime was costing retailers more than just the price of lost goods, with staff and customers often caught in the midst of the frightening assault.
Since then, Victoria Police note there have been 60 swarming incidents in that state since July, with 25 people arrested over the crime.
Police told The Age they believed many of those arrested were responsible for more than one incident and now they are considering introducing a charge that better reflects the serious nature of the crime, the violence involved and its impact.
The charge could be similar to aggravated shoplifting, would carry higher penalties, and mandatory bail requirements.
“Shop stealing isn’t new to us, it isn’t new to the community,” North West Metro Commander Tim Hansen told The Age.
“What has grabbed our attention is the increased use of violence, the use of numbers to intimidate what is predominantly junior retail staff who are vulnerable and aren’t well positioned to resist or stop this offending and nor would we expect them to.
“Ultimately most times the offending is limited to a charge of theft or shop steal. Generally, as a community we relate that to pretty low-level offending. What we are seeing … is at the other end of the spectrum. This is violent high-end offending.”
Working with retailers
In Victoria and elsewhere, police have been working with retailers to step up security efforts, and despite the initial sharp increase in swarming thefts, Commander Hansen said the combined approach was beginning to take effect.
“We have ongoing dialogue with the retail sector. A big shout out to the telcos, especially, who have taken on the advice we provided to them and introduced a whole suite of crime prevention initiatives across their stores,” he said.
“Other retail sectors we continue to talk and liaise with, we understand some of their business models have some limitations around some of the suggestions we are providing to them, but we continue to work with them.”
Options available to retailers
Retailers at risk of “swarming” who are looking to increase their loss prevention strategies and security have a number of options available.
High secure displays
Newly-released high security displays like InVue OnePOD offer increased security features like dual alarms, steel cables, and a steel stand which can withstand up to 180kg of force. They also come with the option of permanent lockdown.
Lockable stock cabinets
Some retailers are opting for dummy displays which see mock merchandise displayed on the floor of a retail outlet while actual stock is secured out the back in locked stock cabinets. This theft prevention method needs to be weighed against the risk of swarming and the fact legitimate customers cannot readily interact with the products.
Many retailers are complementing their upgraded product security features with store-based loss prevention strategies like employing security guards.
In addition to high-security displays and security guards, modern, reliable and clear CCTV footage assists police to identify the offenders involved.
Staff should be educated about the rise in swarming incidents and provided with clear instructions about what to do. This includes calling the police if there is suspicious activity inside or outside a store, such as groups gathering. In some instances, retailers have also issued personal distress beacons to staff.