Project Zeal is a collaboration between the Co-Op, Nottinghamshire Police and Mitie. Created to take a stand against retail crime, Project Zeal was recognised at the 2022 Outstanding Security Performance Awards, winning the award for Outstanding Customer Service Initiative.
The British Retail Consortium Retail Crime survey in 2020 found that 60% of respondents felt that police response to retail crime was ‘Poor’ or ‘very poor’. This perception, in some cases, impacted on the reporting of crime, resulting in less visibility and inaccuracies around data. Without this data, the police didn’t always have the insight to effectively target resources in the right areas. The Co-op understood the challenges that the Police Service faced and suggested a collaborative approach to tackle violence and retail crime. They approached Mitie and Nottinghamshire Police to set about tackling the issue, devising a ground-breaking initiative to combat retail crime in a scalable and effective way, to reduce offences and create a greater feeling of safety amongst retail colleagues in store.
Initially, Co-op met with the Nottingham Police & Crime Commissioner to discuss the issue of police response to retail crime. They wanted to develop a better way to share their intelligence with the police.
Once the key issues were identified, Co-op engaged Mitie. Together, the plan was to identify how intelligence between the Co-op system and police could be shared more effectively, creating a broader picture of retail crime, and enabling them to take a collaborative approach to tackling incidents. Co-op and Mitie explored the possibility of utilising Merlin 24/7, Mitie’s business intelligence software, to integrate data from the Co-op’s reporting system and create detailed intelligence packs on incidents to better secure police response in future.
In addition, Mitie’s Co-op Crime Intelligence Team were on hand to provide intelligence support to the stores throughout the trial and were a vital component of the intelligence analysis needed to identify trends amongst prolific offenders.
Based on the wealth of data available, Mitie and Co-op determined ideal trial locations, settling on Nottinghamshire. The aim of the trial was to prove the effectiveness of the initiative, whilst also designing a solution that could be scalable.
Once the right area and stores were chosen, Co-op and Mitie engaged four local neighbourhood policing teams to develop an information sharing agreement. This agreement allowed all parties to share levels of information between one another with the aim of making meaningful and significant change in the approach to tackling retail crime. Providing the police access to Merlin 24/7 was a key component of the solution and required significant input from both Mitie and police IT teams.
The final piece of the puzzle was to encourage engagement through the store colleagues involved in the trial. The key to changing perceptions involved evidencing the benefits to them and their customers. To rebuild their faith that action would be taken over reported incidents, presentations were conducted outlining what would happen during the initiative, showing colleagues that when incidents were reported they would receive regular progress updates and the reporting process would be simpler and more efficient, saving them time and allowing them to get back to their core duties in store.
Over the trial, the 9 stores involved reported an impressive total crime detection rate of 32.26%. This amazing result highlighted the impact that improved intelligence sharing, and collaboration can have. By sharing intelligence in a simplified manner, prolific offenders could be more easily identified.
The new initiative had an almost immediate impact, and across just 9 stores secured 25 prosecutions of prolific offenders in six months.
Prosecutions alone were not the only measure taken against prolific offenders, with Nottinghamshire Police, Co-op and Mitie keen to take action that could prevent repeat offences and break the typical crime cycle of repeat offenders, delivering alternative forms of justice while still ensuring that crime came with consequence. One potential measure identified was to place suitable individuals into rehabilitation, as a key component of much repeat retail crime is drug addiction.
Project Zeal worked so effectively because it epitomised collaborative working. Significant planning went into the initiative to identify the key issues that needed to be addressed – and from this a clear objective was identified. Engagement across all levels was also a key success factor – by ensuring that store colleagues understood the initiative and could see clear benefits to their involvement, they got on board quickly. Regular progress updates and a transparent approach to keeping colleagues in the loop meant that perceptions started to change quickly resulting in increased reporting and, ultimately, a reduction in crime.