The growing pattern of shoplifting, violence and anti-social behaviour across our retail stores is a concern for every Police and Crime Commissioner in the country. No one should feel unsafe going into work. Businesses provide local jobs, contribute to the economy and help communities to thrive – they deserve better protection and support.

Since my election in 2021, I have made it my mission to build confidence and trust in policing within Durham’s retail and business community. My budget has supported investment in new technology, resources and training to better equip officers in tackling business crime and I have built stronger crime prevention networks to make it easier for businesses to access the support they need from the police and each other to reduce risk.

Safer Business is a key priority in my Police and Crime Plan. I have made clear my expectations of a first-class service to victims of business/retail crime. There is a strong performance culture within the force with all commercial burglary offences now reviewed daily by detective supervisors. All lines of enquiry are followed, linked crimes are identified as early as possible, arrests of suspects are prioritised and cross-border criminality and information is shared. As a result, the force has the highest resolved rate for commercial burglaries in England and Wales at 22.2 per cent compared to the national average of 8.9 per cent.

Over the past two years, I have strengthened relationships between retail groups, business leaders and police on a regional level, helping officers to understand the risks impacting traders and to boost evidence and intelligence gathering capabilities to help prosecute more offenders.

On a practical level, I have supported the roll out of SentrySIS across Durham Constabulary – an online tool enabling businesses and retailers to share information, report crime and even upload evidence such as CCTV footage directly to Durham Constabulary in real-time.

The system enables businesses to report crime instantly without the need to schedule appointments with officers to gather evidence and take statements. It also shortens investigations and aids swift justice and I’m currently exploring the options for expanding the system with the force. During the last quarter alone, there were 1,040 business incident uploads – saving more than 1,496 days of officer time.

Quarterly meetings are now held between myself and the National Federation of Independent Retailers as part of my work to increase support for retail businesses and develop a stronger understanding of current issues and trends. Among the projects underway through this engagement are the design of a new ShopWatch model drawing upon the success of RuralWatch with the assistance of WhatsApp groups for shopkeepers. We are also exploring the roll out of Crimestoppers promotional material across retail outlets.

In further progress, I’ve promoted the development and roll out of Shopwatch and BusinessWatch schemes across Durham City Centre and beyond.

Supported by local Neighbourhood Policing Team officers, these initiatives are providing a forum for retailers and businesses to address issues and jointly problem-solve. They have also aided the launch of enforcement operations such as Operation Cargo in 2021 which have focused on improving communication between stores and the sharing of offender descriptions via WhatsApp to help prevent crime. This campaign saw a 77 per cent reduction in shoplifting offences during the period it ran.

Crimes against businesses have a very high cost – not all of which are financial. The emotional and psychological impact of witnessing any crime – or becoming a victim – can have lifelong consequences, especially on mental health. I’m working hard with businesses to understand and address all the risks they face to protect their employees and premises in the way they need.

Criminals are continually adapting their techniques and strategies to stay in business. Identifying vulnerability has become a key area of focus and we are working closely with businesses to maximise opportunities for communication so we can always stay one step ahead of the threat. The hard work continues but in Durham, these crimes will remain a priority.