Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

How to Encourage Businesses to Help Prevent Crime

The first step in encouraging business owners to engage in crime prevention activities is educating them about the actual costs of crime, both to themselves and to the public. Statistics on the scope of the problem are a good place to start, especially if they are specific to the type of business at hand. To ensure the commitment of the potential partner, it may even be necessary to present information and statistics that are specific to the individual business. For example, if a business is being repeatedly victimized, you might show the owner call for service data demonstrating that it is being victimized more frequently than its neighbors and explain how these disproportionate losses can affect its ability to compete in the marketplace. Or you might describe how much it costs the business to deal with a single burglary incident or shoplifting arrest, both in terms of the actual material loss and the time spent filing insurance claims, making statements to police, testifying in court, and so on. Other businesses might also be spurred into action if they are instructed on the specifics of crime prevention.30

Providing information about the victimization problem or the means of preventing it may not be enough to ensure cooperation. You might have to apply more pressure by asking the business directly—either informally or more confrontationally—to take action to reduce its creation of criminal opportunities.31 If the business is a franchise or has other external management, moving up the chain of command might convince the local business to cooperate. Before doing so, however, make sure you have enough data and information to show why the owner should change practices. If the proposed changes are inconvenient or expensive, you must be able to demonstrate convincingly the connection between the business and the crime problem. One way is through the use of case studies illustrating how similar businesses have benefited from crime prevention.† Other guides in this series focus on specific crimes against business and give examples of effective crime prevention strategies.

† Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

If this approach fails, it can be worthwhile to bring in other agencies to help deal with the problem.32 For example, liquor control boards can be asked to use their authority to encourage bar and liquor store owners to make changes that reduce criminal opportunities. Businesses that keep unsightly and trash-strewn premises that give rise to nuisance and public disorder problems can be brought into line by environmental agencies or municipal code enforcement officers.33

A good reputation is worth a lot to a business. Threatening to damage a good reputation by publicizing the owner's failure to accept responsibility for a crime problem or her refusal to cooperate with reasonable police requests can be a potent tool. Because this approach is potentially so destructive, it is best used only when other methods have failed.34

Why Would Businesses Want to Work With the Police?

There are many reasons for businesses to work in partnership with the police. First, their association with governmental agencies and other businesses will allow them access to a broader set of resources than they would have otherwise. Second, even if a particular business does not have a serious victimization problem, it can still benefit from a reduction in the local crime rate. Third, some of the most promising methods for dealing with business crime call for strategies that are beyond the capabilities of individual businesses or even small groups of businesses.35 Fourth, few business owners know enough about crime prevention to design effective and efficient strategies on their own. Some may even think that common sense tactics—which might not work in all situations and can in fact have unintended consequences—are the best solutions.36 An example of this is enhanced lighting. Although in some circumstances enhanced lighting can prevent crime by making it harder for offenders to hide in the dark and victimize passersby, in other circumstances it can increase crime by making it easier for criminals to see what they are doing.† Fifth, businesses lack the data needed to determine the effectiveness of any given crime prevention strategy.37 Finally, association with a crime prevention initiative allows businesses to promote themselves and to show that they are different from their competitors. This can lead to improved relations with persons in government and to increased customer loyalty.38

† For reviews of the literature on the uncertain relationship between lighting and crime, see Pease (1999) and Farrington and Welsh (2002).