Body Cameras Can Enhance Store Security

Some U.K. retailers are outfitting security guards with cameras, and pilots are planned in the U.S. for security and training uses.

April 25, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Wearable body cameras are commonplace in law enforcement, and when it comes to store security, they could well be the next big thing, reports

In the United Kingdom, Walmart’s supermarket chain Asda began outfitting security guards with body cameras last year in hopes of protecting them from abuse and attacks by the public.

“There’s no doubt that body-worn cameras do have a deterrent effect, and we are very supportive of such measures aimed at reducing violence, threats and abuse at work,” said Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, based in Manchester, England.

Recent reports from the British Retail Consortium, Association of Convenience Stores and police indicate an increase of abuse directed toward retail staff. “Worryingly, 56% of shopworkers who experience violence, threats or abuse at work do not report the incident to their employer, including 22% who were physically attacked,” the union said.

Further, USDAW notes that a survey of store associates shows a 25% increase in violence, with more than 230 assaults on U.K. retail employees every day.

Citing a 30% increase in police-recorded shoplifting over the past decade, Lillis says, “The idea that shoplifting is a victimless crime is wrong. Theft from shops is often a trigger for violence, threats and abuse against shop workers.”

According to a camera vendor, there’s little difference between the use of body cameras in law enforcement and in retail security. The goal is to reduce violence toward the wearer, provide evidence of interaction/actions taken to corroborate or oppose any accusations and give an unbiased and fair view of an incident, interaction or job, according to Richie McBride, co-founder and chief executive of Edesix Ltd., a body-worn camera manufacturer in Scotland.

“Where static CCTV is a great tool, it regularly has no audio and is also, as the name suggests, static,” said McBride, whose firm counts both Asda and Waitrose supermarket chains among its customers.

Body cameras offer additional support and evidence-gathering because they capture audio and video from the perspective of the retail employee. “If the goods are indeed found on the person of the accused after they have exited the store, then it is captured on cameras,” he said.

Read Hayes, a research scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, said he knows of only one U.S. retailer currently using body-worn cameras, but he isn’t permitted to identify the company.

Hayes’ team is currently working with a camera provider and a retailer to develop an experiment where parking lot personnel, such as security guards and cart collectors, are equipped with body-worn cameras at select stores. They will be analyzed in relation to noncamera-wearing associates at a like number of stores with demographically similar locations and customer bases, comparing factors such as how often personnel are asked for help or information, the number of complaints and instances of confrontations. The test should be underway in the next three to six months.

Consumer reaction has been positive. One Edesix client company survey found more than 90% of respondents thought body cameras would improve shopper safety, and 80% said their use “would not impede on the privacy of shoppers.”

McBride said the software can redact the identity of noncriminals captured on camera, and recordings are encrypted and stored securely, which allows for a full chain of custody to be proven. Companies also can put into place automatic deletion policies to erase unnecessary footage after a set amount of time.

“Due to the strict encryption authentication protocols on our software, even a lost or stolen camera cannot have its footage accessed by an unauthorized person,” McBride said. “Once footage is offloaded and stored in our VideoManager platform, only authorized personnel can access that footage— password protected—and a full audit trail of who has accessed, shared, cropped or redacted footage is available to administrators.”

Hayes sees broader possibilities for the use of body cameras in the United States. For one thing, “They can capture interactions for training purposes,” he said, both the type of interactions a front-line wearer can expect to take place, as well as assessing the wearer’s ability to follow policy and procedures.

As for the rate of adoption in the United States, the questions involve more than “Is the bang worth the buck?” Hayes said, noting that many guidelines could be developed after reviewing body-worn camera use by police. “Lessons learned in law enforcement use will be a big help.”