Retailers are waging war on antisocial behaviour – and it’s a battle they are winning. Alison Clements reports

Antisocial behaviour assumes many forms in the retail environment – from drunks urinating in public, to rowdy schoolchildren, to the infamous hoodies.

As one Swansea store manager says: “We have recurring problems when the schools kick out. They may not always be shoplifting, but we have come to expect intimidation, littering, abuse and vandalism on a pretty regular basis.”

A security officer in Hull says late-night opening is a particular problem, making the festive run-up even busier. “Youngsters want a bit of aggro and come in being abusive to stir up trouble. It’s a bit of fun for them, but it’s not for our staff and customers,” they say.

So what’s the best way to keep a lid on trouble?

Introducing exclusion zones is one solution. Such zones have been implemented by the 200 Business Crime Reduction Partnerships that exist across the UK. They involve issuing known troublemakers with exclusion orders, as well as sharing photos between members, and have helped reduce crime and manage antisocial behaviour across commercial communities. Members display exclusion zone stickers so that affected offenders clearly know where they can and cannot go.

“Working alone, stores can ban individuals from coming onto their premises under trespass laws, but a wider exclusion scheme means a troublesome person will become a trespasser on a much greater scale,” says Action Against Business Crime chief executive Mike Schuck. “This is an effective way of dealing with people whose behaviour has been out of line several times in different locations across the partnership.”

House of Fraser head of retail support Jerry Carter says such behaviour is more of a problem for smaller stores without guards, or town centres with social problems. However, he adds: “We do work very closely with management teams in malls to exclude people who cause trouble and, as a matter of course, we ban shoplifters we’ve caught in store from coming back in.”

While such bans work “most of the time”, Carter admits it is difficult to stop people who are excluded from one store from cropping up in another. He says the greatest benefit of working with security to deal with antisocial behaviour is the protection it gives the sales staff. As such, training security to deal with inflammatory situations is crucial. House of Fraser’s staff rule is: “Don’t get involved. Call security.”

Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), which are a criminal offence to break, came into force in 1999. They are designed to protect local communities by prohibiting an individual from entering defined locations, or carrying out specific acts, for a minimum of two years.

BCSC guidance notes in 2005 welcomed ASBOs as “an extremely useful tool where relevant authorities are willing to pursue them”. But, as Martin Taylor, chairman of the BCSC’s Security and Safer Shopping Committee points out, only certain bodies can bring about an ASBO, which limits their worth.

“Applications can only be made by police forces, local authorities and registered social landlords, which means a shopping centre manager can’t pursue an ASBO to deal with a problem person without their full commitment,” says Taylor. “It has become essential for shopping centre managers to maintain good relations with the police for this reason.”

Taylor believes ASBOs are working and shopping centre managers are happy to give their time to help pursue them, because centres are safer once they are issued. Schuck agrees they can be beneficial and makes the point that Business Crime Reduction Partnerships can now easily instigate an ASBO if members have sufficient evidence to give to the authorities. “Of course, there are gaps in the coverage of partnerships, but we are constantly trying to plug that,” he says.

There is a growing demand for security guards and one company, Advance Security, has responded to this by offering specialist training courses. “We have a policy on ASBOs at all our shopping centres, so security staff are clear on what is required of them,” explains sales and marketing director Richard Bailey.

Based on police techniques, Advance Security’s two-day course ensures guards know how to deal with situations physically, while keeping within legal boundaries. The training focuses on conflict resolution, hold-and-restraint techniques being a last resort. “The reality is, people with ASBOs may well break them and there is a stream of new offenders who haven’t yet had an ASBO or an exclusion order served, who will intimidate,” says Bailey.

On the upside, Bailey says ASBOs have led to increased police presence in shopping centres, which, combined with Business Crime Reduction Partnerships, is easing the burden. “The problem won’t disappear overnight, but there is more and more liaison and greater levels of responsibility to cope with it,” he says. “We’re going in the right direction.”