It is time for a new approach to ending the cycle of crime perpetuated by prolific offenders against the high street…
Leo is on the loose!
Regular readers will be pleased to know that my loopy Labrador, Leo, is back to good health and as mischievous as ever.
Following a misadventure involving a paw, the beach, a broken glass bottle and a large vet’s bill, Leo is now making full use of the freedom his recovery has afforded him.
His tail thwacks anything breakable. And his muddy paw prints adorn every square metre of hard flooring in our house following an unexpected and, one might add, “unapproved” dip in the English Channel this morning, much to the delight of my six year old.
Leo is a much-loved, messy nuisance and my entire family is pleased at his return to form, even though that entails the resumption of his twin anti-social obsessions of chasing foxes and rolling in their dung. Joy!
I say “anti-social,” but Leo is harmless if a bit “full on.” Everyone loves him. Unfortunately, other anti-social behaviour is not as easily accepted by all…
Last week I wrote about the business case for tackling crime on our high streets and in our shopping centres. I pointed out how persistent offenders could be dealt with in store. However, that is only a part of the solution to the problem.
This week I want to consider the methodology that might be most applicable to dealing with prolific offenders and turning them away from a life of crime. How do we deal with prolific offenders – individuals who may have between 30 and 60 convictions for similar offences, often incurred as part of an established pattern of criminal behaviour with drug or alcohol abuse at its centre?
Some have sounded the death knell for the high street. They say online shopping has become so popular that people will not be flocking back to stores post Covid. Others see this as an opportunity to dramatically increase the size of their estates in the belief that now is a great chance to pick up property on very good terms, whilst there is uncertainty as to which way the market will go. They are betting that the experience of lockdown is precisely why people WILL return to the high street, city and town centre offices and so forth, en masse. They don’t like living in isolation at home!
Who is right? Time will tell! However, as the online retail experience gets better and better, physical stores will need to do everything they can to justify their place in an omni-channel retail model.
Unfortunately, apart from the humanitarian cost to those committing the crimes – for in my experience their lives are usually miserable – the presence of crime and anti-social behaviour is tainting the high street shopping experience. And it must be dealt with.
As I mentioned, prolific offenders may have 30 – 60 convictions. That is right… SIXTY! How is that possible? Think about it… if someone in your team does something wrong, you will have a word. Depending on the transgression, you might give them some kind of warning. If they then transgress again, they are already on your radar. You have a “serious” talk. Third time, probably down to “last chances” and if a fourth incident follows, that’s probably the end of the relationship.
Maybe you think that the above is harsh. So, let’s double the tolerance to eight incidents. Heck! Let’s go for twelve! Nobody could say that was unreasonable. And yet we are talking 30 – 60 convictions. Clearly the cycle of crime and punishment is not working. Isn’t the idea of the threat of punishment to deter people from offending? And if they offend shouldn’t actually receiving the punishment deter them further? Clearly prolific offenders accept whatever punishments they are given as being a worthwhile price to pay for the lifestyle they lead. The cycle of committing crimes followed by a punishment, then followed by an immediate return to criminality has to be broken. And notching up 60 convictions is clear evidence that the current system is not doing that.
I want to be clear here that there is an important distinction to be made between people who choose to engage in criminal acts repeatedly because they choose that lifestyle and those who have issues around alcoholism or drug addiction or more complex mental health needs. Whilst the process for dealing with/helping these people may be the same, it is important for us not to become a society that consciously decides not to help those who cannot help themselves. That said, it seems to me that we have three choices when it comes to deciding how to deal with this issue:
- First, we can carry on as we are. Doing nothing perpetuates these patterns. It is wasteful of court time, police time and, where applicable prison time. The offender carries on offending at the first opportunity. The cost to businesses remains undiminished. The high street shopping experience stays the same or worsens. This is what is happening right now.
- Second, we look at offender management. I am talking about diversionary management to move offenders away from criminality in a live environment. The first option in diversionary management is that we work with the prolific offender on a daily basis. We recognise the presence of the person when they enter within the perimeter of the high street. We know of their modus operandi and particular style of crime. We warn retailers, but we also engage with the individual… live… every day.Perhaps we push the individual towards a supportive group on a daily basis. Such groups deal with drug or alcohol dependency. Each day business, police, BIDs BCRPs and community stakeholders collaboratively divert the individual away from the high street and towards help. However, the question will be if he or she can be helped. And even if they can, will they accept help? And of course, you still have the issue of criminals entering the high street and the possibility of what can happen if they are not detected early or refuse help.
- The third option is a variation of the diversionary management strategy above. In this case we effectively buy-off the offender. We move them to somewhere else, pay for their accommodation and rehabilitation, so that they can re-join society. And it is perhaps the most positive way to intervene to help people re-join society.The cost of effectively sponsoring the individual is most likely going to be a lot less than the cumulative cost of them re-offending. Think about the cost to business, both direct and indirect, police time, court time and prison time with no improvement in behaviour upon release. Remember the cycle just keeps repeating. And this sort of behaviour over, say, a 10 year period is going to be stratospherically expensive compared to helping an individual to straighten up and fly right, becoming a productive member of society. And those who won’t accept help, well perhaps we need to change the punishment to deter them more effectively.
I’d like to make a final point here about young people and education. I read recently that the average child has had their first alcoholic drink, outside of their home, in this country by the age of 14 years. I have long felt that the leaders of tomorrow need a voice today…
I am convinced that we would make giant strides into breaking the cycle of crime committed by prolific offenders if we did more to educate children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but at the same time gave them a “voice,” an outlet for the youthful energies. Somewhere “to be.”
When I was growing up I had the Boys Brigade and youth clubs and numerous places to gather with other kids in a supervised environment to have fun. What do kids have now? That aspect of educational support – the voluntary sector – has been cut to the bone. Now kids have fewer places to go than ever before. And you know what they say about the devil makes work for idle hands.
To summarise, businesses should not continue to be the targets of unchecked prolific offenders. High streets cannot afford the cost of anti-social behaviour making people feel unsafe to shop. And from a humanitarian point of view as a civilised society we need to take a fresh look at the relationship between crime and punishment on the high street, extend a helping hand where appropriate and re-evaluate how to deter those that see crime as a worthwhile lifestyle choice.
Clearly this article does not contain all of the answers. They cannot be found here. However, hopefully the spark necessary to ignite a desire to deal better with prolific offenders can… and will be.