Co-op teams up with police forces and crime commissioners across the country to reinforce ‘zero tolerance’ approach to COVID-19 related verbal and physical threats towards colleagues

Central England Co-op is warning would-be criminals that it will take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to would-be criminals who use the Coronavirus as a verbal and physical threat towards colleagues.

Today the retailer is continuing its campaign to keep staff and customers safe by letting it be known that any type of crime from burglaries to violence and aggression towards staff would ‘not be tolerated’ as it works hard to keep stores open and provide access to vital food and essentials during these uncertain times.

Central England Co-op revealed it is working closely with Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioners in Northamptonshire, Nottingham and Derby to tackle this issue, with the commissioner releasing a statement in support of its latest campaign to crackdown on store crime and keep colleagues safe.

Bedfordshire Police Superintendent Jaki Whittred, of the force’s community policing command, said: “We support those key workers in essential retail who have worked so hard to keep the communities supplied with vital provisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They deserve to be praised, not abused and we operate a zero tolerance policy towards violence in our county. Anyone found using violence against a shop worker can expect to feel the full effect of the law.”

Paddy Tipping, Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “No-one should go to work wondering if they are going to become a victim of assault, or harassment. It’s disappointing that abuse is often a reality for shop-workers and we must do what we can to protect them.   

“Anyone who feels threatened, intimidated or is assaulted by a customer should report the matter to police for full investigation.  Violence or abuse in any workplace is never acceptable and I’m shocked at the number of people who have been attacked during the lockdown restrictions. 

“Over recent months I have been pressing the Home Office to take action. I’m pleased that they recognise that more must be done to protect shop workers but it’s clear that much more support is necessary.  I’ll continue to campaign with USDAW and Central England Co-op.”

Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire Stephen Mold said: “I firmly believe that a vibrant retail sector is essential to meet the needs of local communities. Through my office I support the proven partnership in Northamptonshire that is the Northamptonshire Business Crime Partnership and I will continue to do so, both where required, financially and through the direct support of a senior member of staff from my office.

“The partnership works closely with over 600 businesses in retail in the county, to deter and tackle those that commit retail crime in Northamptonshire and beyond.

“It also ensures an improved service is provided to these retailers by policing and other partners.

“I particularly support the partnership in the stance that we should not tolerate use of or threats of verbal or physical violence against retail workers.

“These staff work hard to provide a service to local people and such acts need to be treated in the same way and with the same veracity, as would such an act against other essential frontline workers.”

Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa said: “Throughout lockdown shopworkers have been subjected to both verbal and physical abuse simply for complying with government guidance. This is unacceptable. Without these courageous people continuing to work simply buying essential goods would have been nearly impossible. 

“Abuse, in any form, is never appropriate, and no-one should be victim to this type of behaviour simply for doing their job.  I urge people to come forward and report incidents of this kind to the police.  They will take it seriously I assure everyone.

“Personally, I would like to thank all those who have carried on going to work during the pandemic.  They have been largely unrecognised heroes and fully deserve our respect and gratitude for keeping people stocked with essential items such as food, medical necessities and household products.”

Craig Goldie, Loss Prevention Manager, said: “During these uncertain times we are all having to adapt but one thing that remains constant for us here at Central England Co-op is our zero tolerance towards all types of crime.

“We want to send a clear message out to anyone who might consider targeting our stores at this time – it is not worth the risk and no crime will be tolerated.

“We are working hard to ensure our colleagues and customers are safe so that we can continue to provide vital services and support to our communities.

“As well as working closely with local police forces, we have also put in place extra security guards to help keep colleagues and customers safe and also make sure that people are respecting social distancing rules.

“We also want to reiterate our plea to treat our colleagues with care, compassion and respect as they work around the clock for our communities. We want people to think long and hard about the person wearing our uniform – they will be someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandma or grandfather.

“We want people to ask themselves whether they would like their relatives to be confronted by someone in a violent or aggressive way, especially at this uncertain time – the answer is no and therefore why should our colleagues or anyone who works in retail have to even consider facing up to this kind of behaviour.”

This campaign update comes after the retailer joined forces with co-operatives up and down the country in a plea to better protect its colleagues.

New figures have seen assaults jump by 100%, threats and intimidation by 25% and verbal abuse by 175% since the start of the year, and since the lockdown was introduced, there have been over 100 incidents related directly to people using COVID-19 as a threat.

Some examples of incidents have included multiple threats by customers to cough on colleagues and ‘give them Coronavirus’ and further threats of assaults because people have had to queue to enter stores, social distance or simply because they do not have a specific product.

The Society has long campaigned for the Government to change legislation so shop workers are afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties and today are saying more needs to be done now to protect these critical workers and to curb a potential crime epidemic.

Over the past three years, Central England Co-op has invested heavily in measures to protect colleagues including fitting stores with external motion detectors and a centrally monitored CCTV system fitted which allows colleagues to call for assistance at the touch of a button.