London businesses are increasingly turning to private security because they claim the Met won’t attend shoplifting incidents.
Clapham Junction in Battersea, south-west London, is the latest area choosing to use the My Local Bobby scheme – which offers a warden service for a fee and already runs patrols in more than 60 locations in the capital.
It comes as police data shows retail crime is increasing in London, with shoplifting up 21.1% in the past year – although the area’s Business Improvement District (BID) says it believes the increase is far higher.
But is My Local Bobby more effective than the Met Police? How does it work? And what do businesses and locals think?
Johnny Dyson is the director of The Junction BID, which represents about 400 businesses.
He said most of its members don’t report offences like shoplifting to the Met Police because they don’t believe anyone will attend.
“Before the pandemic we had regular police who were always the same people, you’d spot them and they were regularly around the area,” he said. “Post-pandemic, they literally disappeared overnight.
“I think the prominent thing is they’re just spread so thinly – I did speak to them about it and the paperwork aspect alone is just overwhelming.”
Mr Dyson said the BID introduced two My Local Bobby wardens in November. He said that roughly a third of the organisation’s £370,000 annual budget goes towards the service, but “they are a very big visible deterrent”.
“It’s working brilliantly,” he said, adding while some of the shoplifters “are still the same people a year on – they’re still there but it’s less prolific, it’s less easy pickings”.
Who are the Bobbies and what training do they have?
My Local Bobby was co-founded by former Met Det Ch Supt David McKelvey in 2016 and operates “public realm” security services across BIDs in the capital.
All the wardens, known as Bobbies, must be accredited by the Security Industry Authority. This involves being trained by an approved provider before going through a criminal record check and vetting.
They also undergo additional training in trauma response, duty of care, and how to make citizens arrests and use handcuffs.
Once deployed in BIDs, the Bobbies work with businesses to tackle issues such as anti-social behaviour and shoplifting, and offer help to residents and shoppers.
Businesses that take part in the scheme are also part of a WhatsApp group sharing information about known shoplifters operating in the area, and can report incidents to the Bobbies.
Zuzi Kam says she is pleased with MyLocalBobby but believes it’s “a shame” the Met Police can’t deal with shoplifting
One company benefiting from the scheme in Clapham Junction is So Me Beauty on St John’s Road.
Beauty therapist Zuzi Kam said there had been several incidents at the salon “where people have come in trying to nick expensive products” when staff are busy, or by using distraction as a cover for thefts.
“I’ve actually had clients come back and say to me: ‘Just FYI, we’ve seen somebody steal products when you were all very busy,'” Miss Kam explained, adding that other local businesses have had similar experiences.
Although staff have reported thefts in the past, she said the team “very rarely get a response” from the Met Police.
“I understand there probably are bigger crimes happening elsewhere and the Met is stretched – however, you would like to have some sort of a response,” she said.
Speaking about the Bobbies, Miss Kam said “it’s great that it’s finally come around”, adding: “I personally feel like we haven’t had as many issues recently.”
Ben Sheldrake added the Bobbies often encounter the same individuals with underlying factors like addiction or mental health issues
Ben Sheldrake, senior contract manager at My Local Bobby, said his team deals with “hundreds” of incidents on a weekly basis in the area – but it’s not just food being stolen.
“Things like makeup – that goes because it’s expensive, it’s small, its easy to move on,” he said.
“The Bobbies stay in the area they’re allocated to, and the big tactical advantage of that is that they’re more responsive.
“It has a real impact because if your routine involves anti-social behaviour, any sort of appropriation, and you’ve got people literally approaching you on a regular basis in areas where you’re criminally operating… that introduces a real problem for you and you have to consider what you’re doing.”
Defending the spread of private security services, he said: “If an institution fails or is struggling, or a gap is created, traditionally private business is the next solution.
“There’s a lot of eyes on (the Bobbies), and we are a business so we have service agreements, contractual understandings, oversight with the people that we work for.”
Mr Dyson said the Bobbies have been working with the Met to find ways of sharing information.
Asked whether he thought services like the Bobbies might create a two-tier policing system, Mr Dyson replied: “I’ve never been one to say, just because one area can have something and one area can’t, nobody should have it – I don’t think that’s progress.”
What do the numbers say?
The growth of private security in the capital comes amid a rise in retail crime incidents like shoplifting, which has increased by more than a fifth in the 12 months to April.
It follows other signs Met Police resources might be increasingly stretched – including an announcement from the force that it would no longer attend most mental health calls, and warnings by the police watchdog for England and Wales that burglary, robbery and theft victims are not being given the justice they deserve due to a poor response by police forces.
What do people think?
Sinead Hunter said: “I have never felt unsafe in the area, I was completely unaware there was a need for a policy like that”
Sinead Hunter said she was “not against” the idea of the Bobbies but as she is “not a store owner; I don’t experience shoplifting”.
“I think it depends on the individuals they recruit,” she explained. “If you are not careful enough and are not filtering a specific kind of person then things can go wrong.”
Sarah Byrne asked: “Why don’t they go back to security guards in shops?”
Sarah Byrne said she doesn’t think “it’s the best idea” but wasn’t sure officers had time to attend incidents like shoplifting, adding: “They’re probably very busy.”
“I think to have a separate police force possibly could lead to other things – that people would say ‘we need to stop this, we need to stop that’.”
What does the Met Police say?
A spokesperson from the force said: “Individuals and businesses are entitled to employ security companies to provide additional safety for themselves or their premises; this is not a new development.
“The Met works closely with these companies, and through safer neighbourhood teams with partners such as BIDs and local businesses.”