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Retail under fire – securing against theft and armed robbery in South Africa

30 August 2012
Opinion Piece: 
By Kobus le Roux, Sales and Marketing Executive at Jasco Security Solutions
1 February 2012

The retail sector in South Africa faces a number of security challenges, chief among them being theft and a growing trend towards violent armed robbery.

Theft is a common problem across retailers, from grocery stores to clothing merchants and everything in between, whether the stores are located in malls or are street facing. This age old issue includes petty theft from within the stores, items going missing in delivery bays, and items not being scanned at till points, all of which contribute to increased risk and lowered profitability.
However, the more worrying concern for many retailers, particularly convenience and grocery store chains that are not positioned in high-security malls, is that of armed robbery. Apart from the risk of stock and profit loss, which is common with theft, armed robbery poses its own unique risks. Employees and patrons of the stores are put in harm’s way, and there are many reports of people getting seriously injured and even killed in modern armed robbery incidents. This damages the reputation of the store, as customers may be too scared to shop there, leading to further reduced profitability.

The good news is that, in Gauteng at least, a renewed cooperation between retailers and the police, along with larger police presence,  is leading to a reduction in violent armed robbery, which is often a crime perpetrated by syndicates. However the syndicates have now moved into other provinces to avoid the police.  This means that the problems have not been solved but have simply shifted, and in a major way, it is up to retailers to do whatever they can to protect themselves from crime and help the police apprehend criminals once they have acted.

Traditionally camera surveillance technology has been used to record images from entrances and within stores. However, this is a reactive system that does not offer any preventative measures, and at best is a deterrent for petty theft. Surveillance works far more effectively in areas such as delivery bays and receiving areas, where employees themselves are often involved and can be brought to task after the fact, but even in these areas a proactive solution combined with sufficient access control and alarms can provide greater risk mitigation and reduced theft.

In order for camera systems to provide effective risk mitigation within stores, live camera feeds linked to an offsite monitoring system which is constantly viewed and inspected for signs of suspicious behaviour, are a far more efficient tool. These live monitoring systems provide a more proactive solution that enables retail security to see events as they happen, alert the appropriate law enforcement bodies and prevent perpetrators from leaving the premises. 
Camera systems can also be incorporated into till points to monitor transactions and prevent internal theft and fraud. Using surveillance equipment, security can ensure that items are actually passed through the scanner and do not leave the store without being paid for. All transactions can therefore be accounted for and the footage can also be used in dispute resolution should this become necessary.
Technology is constantly evolving, and this includes surveillance equipment. The grainy, blurred images we are all familiar with from television shows have been replaced with far better quality images, thanks to improved technology, allowing those viewing the footage to get clearer images of faces and identifying features. Newer technology also allows images to remain clear when lighting changes from daylight to sunset to night, enabling clear footage throughout the day, and also allows for longer periods of recording.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and other surveillance form the basis of any retail security solution. The footage obtained is admissible as evidence in court and as such police are beginning to use these recordings as part of their investigations and to prosecute offenders. Thanks to improved quality, the likelihood of the perpetrators being identified and apprehended has improved, but in order for this footage to be of use, there are several considerations that need to be kept in mind.

Providing quality footage to help police put a stop to crime in the retail sector is not just about having the right technology in place, as it is completely futile having cameras that point in the wrong directions and are not strategically located. Solutions need to be carefully designed to fit the requirements of each individual location, with the cameras placed in the correct locations and aimed at the right height to see and capture faces. The video stream also needs to be monitored effectively to ensure action can be taken swiftly.
While theft and armed robbery are not new problems in the retail sector, they cause huge losses to profitability and reputation each year and have become dangerous not only to staff but to customers of the stores. Incorporating the right technology and working with the police to provide quality evidence that can be used to apprehend criminals is the way forward in preventing these crimes and mitigating the risk they present.

For more information visit us at Jasco at www.jasco.co.za.

For further information contact:

Kobus le Roux
Sales and Marketing Executive
Jasco Security Solutions
Tel: 27 11 894 7127/8
E-mail: kleroux@multivid.co.za