Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Barriers to Business Participation in Crime Prevention Partnerships

Belief That the Criminal Justice System Does Not Need Any Help

Business owners may be reluctant to work with the police on crime issues, either because they believe that police cannot do much about the problem, or, conversely, because they believe that the police are already effectively dealing with it.17 Like the rest of the public, business owners may also believe that certain approaches to dealing with crime work best: a greater police presence, through stepped-up patrols perhaps, or increased penalties for offenders.18 It is vital that business owners understand that the criminal justice system alone cannot handle the crime problem and that they too must make efforts to prevent crime. Although many individuals are willing to accept the notion of self-protection, businesses are lagging behind.19 This is especially important because some preventive measures can only be implemented by businesses themselves, such as those related to product design and methods of providing services.20

Ignorance of the Costs of Crime

It can be a challenge to convince owners that crime is more than just another cost of doing business. Many business owners are ignorant of the consequences of crime. Few business schools offer curricula relating to crime or crime prevention, beyond fraud detection in accounting courses.21 Business owners may believe that they have a low risk of victimization and that any losses they suffer will be covered by insurance. Expending extra resources on crime prevention activities might not be considered cost-effective. Even businesses without insurance coverage may be unwilling or unable to spend on crime prevention.22

Unwillingness to Accept Social Responsibility

Once businesses understand the direct impact that crime has on their viability and profitability, they should have a strong motivation to try to prevent their own victimization. But convincing businesses that they have a social responsibility to reduce opportunities for crime can be problematic, especially if the crime does not affect them directly. Some business owners may not fully understand how their practices contribute to crime, and even those who acknowledge their role in crime generation might not be convinced that it is in their best interests to work with the police to address the problem.

How you respond to these business owners depends both on the depth of their ignorance and the level of their denial of responsibility. The amount of pressure needed to achieve cooperation can range from gentle suggestions and encouragement to more punitive and even legal actions.23 Your goal is to encourage businesses to accept some of the responsibility for addressing the problem and to take some of the burden for solving it off of the shoulders of the police.

Practical Concerns

Beyond the need to convince businesses of the costs of crime and of their responsibility for preventing it, there are more mundane logistical issues that can serve to prevent businesses from becoming involved in partnerships with police.

  • Some businesses think that police can do nothing to help them.24 It is up to police to demonstrate new and different strategies that will cause such businesses to reassess their opinions about police effectiveness.
  • Businesses with small staffs that work long hours may find it difficult to devote time and energy to crime prevention.25 Involving these businesses will require a great deal of outreach, such as frequent visits to pass on information and to remind staff of their importance to the success of the partnership. 
  • Some businesses have concerns about working with other businesses, particularly their competitors.26 Research indicates that this hesitancy can be overcome once it becomes clear that the benefits of crime prevention outweigh the risks of cooperation.27
  • In areas with a high business turnover,28 it can be difficult to maintain continuity in the partnership. Whether this is important depends upon the type of partnership you want to establish. Issue-specific partnerships can be established and disbanded fairly quickly, whereas entrenched institutional partnerships are threatened by business turnover.
  • Financial viability is a primary concern of all businesses and must be recognized as a legitimate issue. You should be sensitive to this; do not assume that businesses will want to get involved merely out of a sense of social responsibility. For this reason, partnerships that address crime issues that directly affect businesses will likely have greater participation.29