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Connect Direct launched in 2022 to target the most prolific offenders in retail crime 

The National Business Crime Solution (NBCS) has helped to bring 340 prolific offenders targeting convenience stores to justice, thanks to its Connect Direct initiative.

The not-for-profit organisation launched the service in 2022 as an efficient avenue for its members to log incidents of theft, abuse and violence against their stores and staff.

Its business crime liaison officers then analyse their data, which is submitted centrally on a regular basis, to identify repeat offenders targeting multiple stores in a local area.

NBCS shares the intel with police on a fortnightly basis, after compiling the incidents into one case so they “are not dealt with in silo and the true extent of offending is addressed”.

“We’re doing a lot of the legwork in terms of packaging up the information before it gets to local authorities because, in reality, the police do not have the resource to develop this intelligence,” NBCS head of local services Sarah Bird told The Grocer.

“If members have reported incidents to police without a name and they have not been able to obtain an identity, that case will more often that not be closed. Through Connect Direct, we keep this offender on our radar until we get an ID. We can then apply the identity to the case and highlight the impact of their offending.”

NBCS said it had been able to identify 87% of unknown offenders through the process. Its business crime liaison officers carry out the majority of the analysis through human intervention and review, NBCS said. 

However, it has recently launched a new AI-based system called Alert, by ShopSafe, which helps NBCS review incidents quicker as it is trained to connect specific words and phrases in crime reports.

NBCS said it also aims to “plug the gaps” in incidents of under-reporting to ensure retailers are submitting actionable evidence.

“It’s no secret the convenience sector has been impacted heavily with retail crime due to the products they sell, but also their geographical locations,” added Bird.

“From a local prolific offender point of view, they’re the ones who impact the safety and daily routines of the stores, so if we can support workers to minimise that risk and ensure they feel more confident going about their job, then we’ll do whatever we can.”

NBCS’s Connect Direct has now gone live with 16 police forces, with plans to have full national coverage by 2025. NBCS said the initiative was also helping its members fight crime that operated in other business sectors.

Of the 340 offenders targeting convenience stores brought to justice so far, 251 were sent to prison, while 37 were given a suspended sentence. The remaining cases were either convicted with a fine, community service, or a rehabilitation order.

With the majority of theft in convenience stores primarily done by individuals looking to fund an alcohol or drug habit, the NBCS said it was critical they got the support they needed in order to break the cycle of reoffending.

In 2022 it launched the NBCS Foundation, which is a registered charity designed to fundraise from across the retail industry to support a range of rehabilitation activities. Some of the beneficiaries it has helped to fund recently are homeless charity Crisis and rehabilitation centre The Nelson Trust.