Co-op is set to become the first retailer to roll-out a new forensic spray designed to “diffuse” attacks on frontline shopworkers and curb rising levels of violent crime.
The move comes against a backdrop of unprecedented levels of crime, violence and assaults against all shopworkers and sees a handheld spray, SmartTag® – which contains a unique SmartWater® forensic signature – assigned to dedicated Mitie security officers, who are fully trained in its use.
Designed to act as a deterrent, trials of the spray in South Yorkshire have already shown that the SmartTag armband – worn by the trained Mitie security officer – quickly calms potentially violent incidents.
Only used in extreme circumstances, hundreds of Mitie security officers have been trained and equipped with the spray and, where violent assaults and attacks take place, the security officer could spray offenders with a unique dose of SmartWater, providing evidence for the police to act on later.
The SmartTag technology can be moved to different stores dependent upon where it is most needed and intelligence on criminal activity, and will typically be in around 450 stores. In a separate move, this year will also see Co-op more than double the number of stores where Mitie colleagues wear body-worn cameras. The cameras also act as a deterrent and prevent incidents from escalating with the technology capable of sending real-time audio and visual footage to Mitie’s Security Operation Centre at the push of a button.
SmartTag is compact, easy to use & non-threatening appearance, designed not to heighten tension at the scene of an incident.
Used in the same way as an aerosol – simply aim at the offender and press, marking them with a discreet forensic liquid, effective over many metres.
Detective Superintendent Lee Berry, who launched a pilot last year with security guards when at South Yorkshire Police, said: “Our aim was to create a deterrent for door staff to diffuse violent incidents before they escalated. Over 100 canisters were deployed across the county following a successful trial in Sheffield. We received great feedback from door staff who said they had diffused situations by warning those involved that they would be forensically marked.”
Andrew Needham, Co-op Head of Retail Loss, said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our colleagues who work tirelessly to serve communities with essential food and groceries. No one should have to face violence just for doing their job. As a community retailer we see the impact of social issues in our stores. It’s a societal issue that all retailers are concerned about and it’s having lasting effects on the lives of shop workers – both mentally and physically. It is not part of the job to be verbally abused, threatened or attacked and we’re determined to make sure it isn’t, investing in the use of the latest technology and calling for greater protection for shop workers with the root causes of crime in communities to be addressed and stiffer penalties for those convicted sending out a clear message that this is not acceptable.”.
Jason Towse, Managing Director, Business Services, Mitie, said: “Ensuring the safety of everyone in store has always been our priority, even more so in the context of COVID-19. We continue to invest in new technology, such as SmartTag, that can act as a deterrent and support the Police in their investigations, helping to keep our officers, shop workers and local communities safe.”
Before security officers are equipped with SmartTag®, they must participate in an online training course and pass an exam. Gary Higgins, COO of SmartWater® Technology, said: We have sought the advice of both the police and top legal teams, creating a training module that ensures the staff know the correct way to use SmartTag. It proved to be a powerful deterrent in South Yorkshire, and we’re delighted that Mitie and the Co-op have taken the initiative to be the first to roll-out the technology.”
SmartWater is the only forensic product of its type that is compliant with the requirements of the Government’s Forensic Science Regulator and, unlike non-compliant products, is admissible as evidence in Court.
Co-op has warned of a store crime epidemic unless the Government urgently introduces new legislation to provide all shopworkers with greater protection through the introduction of stiffer penalties. As part of its Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign, Co-op is working to build awareness and support for MP Alex Norris’ Assault on Shop Workers Bill – calling on Government to show frontline workers that it is listening and, takes the issue seriously.
Co-op has committed to investing a further £70M over the next three years in innovative technology to keep colleagues safer. With its partner Mitie, it has introduced SmartWater Fog Cannons, the latest remote monitored CCTV, body-worn cameras and, communication headsets to connect all frontline colleagues.
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