Explained: What steps you can take to prevent crimes in your pharmacy
From de-escalating potentially violent incidents to banning repeated offenders from your premises, there are many things pharmacy teams can do to protect themselves from crime – as an NPA webinar on preventing crimes in pharmacies showed, says Jasmine Shah
From shoplifting to repeated destructive burglaries, there have been thousands of reports of crimes in UK pharmacies made over the past few years alone – as the shocking results of C+D’s investigation into crimes in pharmacies have revealed.
It’s often difficult to know what action to take when faced with a crime in your pharmacy, which is where a National Pharmacy Association (NPA) webinar last month stepped in to help.
Entitled Preventing crime: protecting yourself, your staff, your premises and your stock, the webinar showcased the results from C+D’s crimes in pharmacies investigation and featured top tips from a police superintendent.
During the webinar, I interviewed Patrick Holdaway, police superintendent at the National Business Crime Centre, about how pharmacy teams can deal with different scenarios.
Here are his top tips from the webinar on what teams should do when faced with some all-too common situations where a crime is taking place in their pharmacy.
How should I confront a customer carrying a weapon?
During the webinar, I referred to a scenario where a verbally abusive patient was seen to be carrying a weapon that resembled a knife in their pocket. So, I asked Mr Holdaway, how can pharmacy staff protect themselves in these situations and how can they de-escalate the incident?
First and foremost, Mr Holdaway suggests getting the abusive customer out of the pharmacy. "As soon as you can, just phone the police [using the 999 number] and make it very clear that [the customer has] got a weapon on them,” he advises.
“That’s one of those things that will definitely drive up a police response. If someone’s aggressive, your priority is to look after yourself, and look after your customers as much as you can and then phone the police and let them deal with it.”
And what about de-escalating the situation? Mr Holdaway advocates being “calm and firm, ask them to stop doing what they’re doing”.
He also recommends that, if possible, staff should start wearing body cameras, which he said can work “really, really well” in these situations. Troublesome patients who are told they are being recorded “do very much moderate their behaviour because everything’s been caught”, he says.
“Make sure you’ve got signs up to say that you’ve got CCTV in place, if only just to kind of put people off and make them aware that when they come in, it’s being recorded and that their behaviour is being monitored,” he adds. “It’s such a powerful message, if someone does go to court, that recording of that person’s behaviour really comes out in court, and [is] often far better than whatever you could ever write in a statement.”
Can I ban a customer from my premises?
What about when a certain individual is a repeated offender in your pharmacy – frequently subjecting the team to abusive behaviour or repeatedly shoplifting items when coming to collect their prescription? Is there a way to ban that customer from the premises?
Yes, according to Mr Holdaway. He advocates telling the patient that they are banned from entering your pharmacy and writing to them to this effect, if you know their address. However, it is important to make sure the patient can still access their medicines elsewhere, he concedes.
“I suppose the priority will always be making sure that if that customer doesn’t get the medication through you, where else can they get it,” he acknowledges. “But that is not to say that you have to accept that abuse and violence. Definitely not.”
He is aware from speaking to some pharmacy teams in Hampshire that some patients have been banned from certain pharmacies and have to get their medication elsewhere. “I think that’s right for you to be able to invoke,” he says.
If pharmacy teams want to invoke a legal route towards banning somebody from their pharmacy, they can take the potentially “very expensive” route through the civil courts, he points out.
Or, if warranted, the police may seek to take out a criminal behaviour order against an individual, with one of the conditions of the order being that the person cannot enter the premises. This will be enforceable by law and can lead to the person’s arrest if they break that condition.
Ultimately, Mr Holdaway recommends engaging with your local policing team, explaining the situation to them and working together to solve the problem. “Invariably, they will know the offender and do what they can to support you,” he says
How can pharmacy teams protect controlled drugs from theft?
According to Mr Holdaway, one way to prevent controlled drugs from being stolen from your pharmacy is to “make use” of your local police force’s controlled drug liaison officer to get their “guidance and advice” on this issue.
If the drugs are stolen in a robbery, for example during the day, with staff members being threatened with a weapon unless they hand over controlled substances, this is a “far more serious offence”, says Mr Holdaway.
When you go to report the crime, he recommends explaining exactly "what’s happened, how you feel, [and] the behaviour of the other person, because that will make sure you get the right police resource".
Can I report customers for anti-social behaviour, even if it’s not a crime?
Pharmacy teams will be well-versed in situations where customers are not necessarily breaking any laws but are nonetheless making staff and other customers feel unsafe.
What options are available to pharmacy teams where, for example, a large group of people is loitering outside the pharmacy, making staff feel uneasy and putting other customers off from visiting the pharmacy?
In these situations, Mr Holdaway recommends phoning the police to explain the situation and the impact it is having on other customers.
But the important thing, he stresses, is that staff do report incidents – however small.
“I can’t overstate the value of reporting. If you don’t report it, police can’t attend to deal with those incidents, and I appreciate that we won’t always turn up,” he concedes. “But at least it’s always recorded, it’s always reported, and it builds a picture of offending behaviour.”
“If you haven’t got the time to phone up, or you don’t want to keep phoning people out, just record it, report it online, just keep a record of it.”
Whenever I make a report, I feel like I’m wasting the police’s time. How can I ensure my report is taken seriously?
By now, it’s clear to see the importance in reporting crimes when they occur on your premises. But what if those reports aren’t taken seriously by the police?
Mr Holdaway stresses that teams have “just got to keep reporting” crimes as and when they occur.
But there are options if you feel particularly aggrieved by the way police have handled your report, he says – such as going to your police and crime commissioner.
“Many police and crime commissioners have now got business crime as part of their policing crime plan. So, if you struggle with police response, make contact with the police and crime commissioner and explain that you're struggling and you're not getting much support,” he suggests.
It is also important that police are provided as much information and detail about the incident and the perpetrator as possible.
“The problem is, if somebody’s reporting a shop theft, and they don’t know who it is, we’ve got no CCTV image, we’ve got no name and address, we don’t know who it is, the police will file that and take no further action, because there’s little that they can do,” he says.
“Which is why it’s so important to have CCTV, or an image of the offender. That’s why that’s important, because it means they can progress the investigation.”
What can I do if I suspect there is crime going on within my team?
Unfortunately, sometimes crimes can be committed by somebody in the pharmacy team – as opposed to an outside perpetrator. What should teams do if they suspect this is happening?
Once again, Mr Holdaway stresses the importance of reporting the crime to the police. “We believe that internal theft, again, is massively underreported,” he says.
As well as being an unpleasant situation for employers to deal with, employee theft poses potentially dangerous consequences, he points out. “If somebody’s stealing controlled drugs, then I think it’s really important that they need to report that.”
Although it can be tempting to get rid of the problem by dismissing the member of staff in question, this poses challenges of its own – such as the perpetrator going to work for another business and doing the same to them he says.
“So we’d always ask that they’d be reported, at least we then have their details. I won’t guarantee that on every occasion we will take them to court, but theft by employee is a serious offence, and it’s one that Crown Prosecution Service will take seriously as and when it goes to court,” Mr Holdaway advises.
To watch back the crime prevention webinar, click here.
If you wish to display a poster in your pharmacy informing patients that you operate a zero abuse policy, an A3, A4 or A5 poster is available for you to download here.
Jasmine Shah is Head of Advice and Support Services at the National Pharmacy Association
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