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These offences occur in conjunction with other offences in the workplace while in some occasions, they are committed without complementary offences. There are various criminological theories which some scholars are of the opinion that their applications would not combat or could not be used in isolation to manage crime but rather, in conjunction with a few others, optimal crime management results could be achieved. Strengths and weaknesses of these theories shall be looked into, their applications to the management of theft in a workplace, and their relevance to theft in the retail business environment. The categories of the offenders responsible for this crime, motivational factors and how they are committed shall also be explained using the available theories and an approach to managing and reducing theft.
For the purpose of this essay, legal definition of theft as contained in the UK Statute Law Database shall apply;
" . . . . . . . . .A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains services from another shall be guilty of an offence"
".. . . . . . . . It is an obtaining of services where the other is induced to confer a benefit by doing some act, or causing or permitting some act to be done, on the understanding that the benefit has been or will be paid for".
". . . . . . . . . . Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2) above, it is an obtaining of services where the other is induced to make a loan, or to cause or permit a loan to be made, on the understanding that any payment (whether by way of interest or otherwise) will be or has been made in respect of the loan" (Theft Act 1978).
In this essay, theft in retail sales environment shall be considered which will includes shoplifting, employee being involved in taken home stationeries without their managers' approval, bank card theft, identity theft which could be through drivers licence and bank statements. Understanding these criminal acts is important to the Security Manager to enable him apply effectively, the criminological theories into designing a managerial approach and strategies to curtailing and controlling the offence.
Theft, as a criminal offence has great impact on the profitability and performance of any organisation as a whole. Theft can be defined as an unauthorised acquisition, control or transfer of items and properties belonging to other people or organisation without due consent of its' custodian. Thefts, as a workplace offence also interrelate with identity theft and card fraud amongst others which is widespread in the retail business environment.
". . . . . . . . . .Card fraud in the BCS (British Crime Survey) is defined as using plastic payment cards, such as bank, debit, credit or store cards, to take money without permission or prior knowledge from a bank, building society or credit card account (or to charge money to credit/debit cards).The 2008/09 BCS shows there was an increase in the proportion of plastic card owners who had fallen victim to fraud, with 6.4 per cent of plastic card owners being aware that their card(s) had been fraudulently used in the previous 12 months, compared with 4.7 per cent in 2007/08. This is the second consecutive annual increase since 2006/07" (Home Office Statistical Bulletin 08/10).
This essay will also show why people commit offence, the motivational factors, and various groups of people who commit the offence and how combinations of criminological theories rather than individual theories are more useful in managing this crime in workplace.
In this essay, Rational Choice and Routine Activities theories shall be discussed in line with their application to managing crime in the workplace. Rational Choice theory has its basis and a modern extension to the Classical School theory. Rational Choice theorists analyzed crime as offender-specific and offense-specific. Offense-specific concentrate more on the situational aspects of the rational choice and offender-specific has personal aspects of the decision as its centre point (Cornish and Clark, 1987). It also emphasised the fact that crime occurs when the benefits outweigh the costs as well as when people pursue self-interest without being subjected to proportionate or excessive punishments. Whether to commit crime or not is a choice. Rational choice theorists believe that crime is a choice that is influenced by its costs and benefits-that is, by its "rationality."
Information about the costs and benefits of crime can be acquired by direct familiarities with punishments and punishments avoidance, and indirectly by observing whether those who offend are punished or have avoided punishments. Crime will be more likely to be deterred if its costs are higher than the benefits. (e.g., more efforts being required to commit crime coupled with more punishments when offenders are caught). If costs are certain and the associated punishments are unavoidable, motivated offenders would always weigh their options before embarking on any criminal act (Cullen & Agnew 2002).
Rational choice theory is very wide in scope with simple basic elements which are strong but at the same time flexible. People make decisions between choices at every point in time. However, some decisions are made without being well informed while others are not. Some decisions are often taken due to the immediate circumstances and situations while some are habitual. However, the facts still remains that benefits associated with the perceived risks are weighed before arriving at any decision which makes it possible to intercept the decision process if the offences have been pre-empted.
Some people have taking delinquency as a way of lifestyle. In some circumstances, decisions to commit crime are arrived at due to inadequate information available at the time of decision making and all these put together still reflect the important role opportunity plays in criminal act. In addition to opportunity, importance of the environment on delinquencies cannot be undermined. However, in certain circumstances, offenders rarely have a detailed idea of all the various costs and benefits of the crime because decisions are taken within a very short time. (Felson & Clarke, 1998).
In theory, there are three broad categories of offenders or workplace violence perpetrators which are the employee, strangers and the intending or potential customers or clients (Chappell and Di Martino, 2000). These employees in most cases take advantage of imperfect system to increase their organisation's inventory shrinkage level. In an ideal business environment, organisation should have records of their inventory through regular stock counts and should be able to explain whatever discrepancies that are being observed on a regular basis. In the US, 17.5% of stock shrinkage is as a result of system failure. This is as a result of inaccurate or failure to collect and communicate information accurately about the stock level in a timely manner within the organizations that are found of this hitch.
In a bid to control and manage crime, Opportunity-reducing techniques are a vital approach which could be achieved by increasing the perceived effort of crime by target hardening, security control access to target and deflecting offenders from target. However, in cases of card theft, crime facilitators could be controlled by having the owners' photos on credit cards, using plastic beer glasses in pubs etc. Another technique involves increasing the perceived risks of crime by security screening, formal surveillance by employees, manned guarding, CCTV and effective lightning which could take the place of a Natural surveillance and help in obtaining footage through the use of technology. Anticipated rewards of crime should also be reduced so as to discourage criminal act. Targets could be removed; there could be property marking, and reducing temptations by ensuring that every motivational factor is put under control. Educating everyone on codes of conducts, and acceptable norms would eliminate the excuses of being ignorant (Clarke, 1997).
It is important to understand the opportunities that facilitate workplace crime in order to combat or reduce the criminal act. In America, introduction of Caller identification devices have removed obscene and threatening phone calls which ordinarily depends upon telephone access and the ability of the caller to hide his own identity. However, rates of other crimes such as car theft and burglary would also be higher when, in fact, they are lower in Britain and some other countries in Europe. Rather, the much higher homicide rates of the United States result from the widespread availability of handguns, which means that the opportunity to carry out a quick but deadly attack is much greater, even when the victim is stronger than the attacker (Felson 1998). This implies that once a particular type of crime is put under control, there is tendency that the motivated offenders would always get deflected and discovers other crime types or targets.
It has been gathered through a research that majority of those who committed robberies found themselves in the act with the reason that they needed money; which implies that they did it to earn their living. It does not necessarily mean that these people are unemployed but it is a way of making ends meets (Gill 2005). Due to the fact that every individual has tendencies to steal, environment and the perceived risks also influence people to steal. We cannot rule out the fact that some people have taken stealing as a career as they have never worked or had proper education on the menace of theft. These people take advantage of every opportunity as explained by the rational theorists.
However, contrary to rational choice theory which believes that opportunity is the main factor responsible for crime occurrence, routine activity theory as described by Cohen & Felson explained in one of their published articles in 1979 suggests that Crime occurs when there is an intersection in time and space of a motivated offender, an attractive target and lack of capable guardianship. Changes in routine activities in society (e.g. where both couples are working, construction of new roads) can influence crime rates. People's daily routine activities affect the likelihood of crime being committed (Cullen & Agnew 2002).
" . . . . .The routine activity approach still offers the best explanation for the rise in burglary in the United States and Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s. Included in this explanation is the finding that the best predictor of annual burglary rates is the weight of the smallest television set sold each year. Another important component of the explanation is that far more homes in this period were left unguarded in the day as more women entered Full-time paid work. In fact, the most general explanation of crime rate trends is an indicator of the dispersion of activities away from family and household settings. As people spend more time among strangers and away from their own homes, their risk of personal and property victimization rises" (Felson and Clarke, 1998).
There are some elements and conditions which must be fulfilled for a crime to take place. These elements as analysed by routine activity theorists include suitable target, potential offender, suitable time, place and lack of capable guardianship. A suitable target as described by criminologists could be perceived as a person, a business, consumer product or premises. However, crime risk is reduced if the target is perceived not to be highly suitable or of low value to the offenders. It is therefore a crime prevention approach to reduce the perceived suitability of a target if the Security Manager thinks that the cost of increasing security of a target is high. A motivated offender is practically anyone who has desires to obtain a service or a substance which he has not acquired a legal ownership of. Offenders customarily make choices between committing crimes based on projected opportunities and rewards. Every individual has some possibility of committing crime depending on their circumstances and the available opportunities. If given a chance, or the right "opportunity", any person could commit a crime (Felson & Clark, 1998).
Every individual has specific areas in which they carry out their daily routine activities and this is rather called the activity space, Domain or a potential path area. This area includes both the places that are visited, route to such locations from their places of abode and places of daily or routine activities. In as much as people are not static, crime will have a non-static nature. In reality, some places, properties or facilities attract more crime than others. In some circumstances, these are the places where people visit very often like the Accident and Emergency department of hospitals, hospital car parks, isolated off-street parking etc. These are locations where people leave their cars while visiting and tend to leave valuables in the car due to the nature or the concern at the time of the visit.
It is important to understand that in routine activity theory, crime do occur when there is interaction between a potential offender and a suitable target in time and space; opportunity which is being created by the lack of capable guardianship cannot be undermined. It is very essential to identify the available opportunities and put in place measures to either make these opportunities not attractive or show that the cost outweighs the benefits. These could be achieved through the use of Security devices and technology, proper lighting of an area, orientation and educating staff and visitors through various audio visual devices etc. Some businesses and organisations use combine procedures as customer service, training and crime prevention technologies e.g., cameras, electronic tag systems to control and manage crime (Hayes 1991).
Criminological theories play important roles in crime control and management as guidelines to what a Manager should look out for and how these factors should be managed in order for him to effectively achieve the organisation's set target in a bit to reduce crime. In some occasions where the capable guardianship is available, theft are being attacked by the detectives in the store or those on patrol which eventually broadcast warning signs to others who have the intention to commit crime that the area is not safe for their intending activities. (Hayes, 1993; Jones, 1998)
Researchers have shown that some offenders are professional shoplifter and have taken it as a career. They shoplift to orders in which case, there is a willing buyer who have indicated interest in purchasing a specific item. These career based shoplifter look for those specified items. In the course of their action, they might see some items which they perceive would be easy for them to sell and shoplift along with their order. However, they are not unaware of the security systems in most of the shops they visit, but they work around the security system and they know when and where to perpetrate the act (Gill 2005). Same applies to identity and card theft which leads to other person's details and bank cards being used for purchases and to obtain items or services on termed/contract basis in the telecommunication industry.
There have always been campaigns that tell credit card users not to have their cards' pin number written down but in most shopping centres, these criminal do present the card to the merchant, use a wrong pin number and in some cases inform them that they have forgotten the pin number. The attendants use the swipe facility on the POS (Point of Sale) machine and ask them to sign the payment slip that is generated. There is a flaw on the part of the merchant as in most cases, they compare the signature on the card signature strip with the one signed by the offender, who must have practised forging the signature. Instead of this, a photo ID card like drivers licence or passport would be ideal to be used to verify the signature and identity in such situations.
In the current economic world, Identity theft is a serious crime which involves the use of an individual's stolen personal information, credit and financial details. It has been disclosed by the Federal Trade Commission that 8.3 million U.S. citizens were victims of this crime in 2005 and these figures have soared by 22 percent by 2007 (Smith, 2009). Besides the fact that this is a serious crime, Identity theft do have a great emotional impact on its victims. It's unfortunate that the victims in most cases are unaware of how their records were obtained which ultimately make some of them feels vulnerable, angry, depressed and stressed depending on the extent of the economic damage cause to them. In countries like Britain, this also have negative impact on the victims' credit report and score. Although the law protects victims from being financially accountable for the fraud committed in their names, the credit rating could have been affected even before realizing what has happened.
In theory, victims are protected by law and most of the conveniences extended to them in the past will no longer be available when the credit reporting agencies have been contacted to report the crimes who thereby impress a theft flag on the victim's credit file. Future lenders would be sceptical in exposing themselves to such customers and as such would be demanding for additional information and documents to verify the genuineness of the person requesting for credit facilities. It has been estimated in the United State by the Federal Trade Commission that businesses have spent over $1.5billion in resources to combat, avoid and resolve loses that have resulted from this act while over $50billion have been lost to this crime (Smith, 2009).
There are various reasons why people do commit an offence most of which are not based on their needs but as a result of their low level of education. An employee who takes home some of the office stationeries and equipments on the ground that they are not being used or just for him to use might not have thought that it is tantamount to theft until he is adequately informed. Contrarily, employees commit theft to compensate themselves for the fact that they have not got job satisfaction or they believe that the company is paying them less than what they deserve. And as an avenue to remedy the perceived inequity with their employers (Greenberg, 1997). More also, some employees atimes perceive this as an avenue of getting back at the employer who has failed to provide them with job satisfaction as they are being ripped off (Altheide et al., 1978).
However, there are different types of customers who visit the organisations on daily basis. Some visit with the intention to shoplift, window shop, to see demonstration of new products and to purchase products. It is certain that these groups of customers, with different motives behave differently when they are in the shop and their approaches to staff differ. This is where the level of education on delinquent and staff awareness about customers' behaviour have to be improved upon. Security and safety at work place is every employees' responsibility and they are not to increase opportunities for theft to occur which invariably has a negative impact on the entire populace at large.
Theft as a workplace crime, impacts negatively on every individual that have activities with the organisation. The business operational costs are increased as a result of losses due to theft and these costs are passed on to their clients and employees. In most cases, it results to increasing costs of security maintenance, insurance premium and other elements of operational costs which will affect employees' benefits depending on the magnitude of losses suffered by the organisation. The economic effect of employees' theft being the major contributor to inventory shrinkage in US has been estimated at $400 per year to every family (Hollinger and Clark, 1983). This has an inflationary effect of 10 to 15% on the price of consumer goods (Consumer reports, 2002).
It is apparent that the costs of crime at workplace are immeasurable as some of them cannot be quantified. This include business disruptions, affects employee morale, loss of customs, management time being wasted on incident reporting and documentation, increased insurance premium and increased risk factors of the business (British Chambers of Commerce, 2002). High level workplace theft may also lead to company insolvency. Based on this, it is very important to understand the workplace and the nature of crime facing the business before putting in place any crime anticipatory measures or displacement measures. Rational choice emphasised the fact that opportunity is core in the decision making by the offenders when it comes to delinquencies.
It is obvious from all indications that once the opportunity is displaced or made unnoticed to be of any value, a motivated offender would not pay attention to the target. As a result of this, opportunity has to be identified, modified and could be at a cost which will be economical rather than allowing the crime to be perpetrated before putting in place a control. By virtue of the fact that opportunity is requisite to crime occurrence, it is agreeable that rational choice theory interrelates with the routine activity theory which believes that crime can only happen when there is interception of certain elements. Cohen and Felson's (1979) routine activity theory explained the fact that occurrence of crime is as a result of the opportunity of the following factors coming in contact: Motivated offender, suitable target and lack of capable guardianship in a place.
Working in an environment where there is an opportunity of having access to money and property does not translate to committing crime. This shows a subjective aspect of opportunity. It is therefore important to understand that certain factors like social desirability for the product or property, concealability of target and proximity do have supportive role to play in conjunction with opportunity for theft to occur (Hollinger and Clarke, 1983).
It is therefore necessary that a Security Manager, who has understood the environment where he works, should identify the risk elements, opportunities, and motivational factors for a potential offenders, use the combine knowledge of these theories to design an approach to forestall all avenues for crime to occur. Security Manager should ensure that the knowledge acquire from these theories are put into action by ensuring that opportunities are identified and modified to suit his organisational goal as it relates to crime reduction. This could be achieved by; reducing the excuses for theft and frauds by ensuring that employees plight are listened to, reduce any anticipated reward from the act by putting in place a punishment that is commensurate to the offence, ensure that the perceived risks of being caught and punished is in place, and the efforts should be made higher than the benefits.
The combine knowledge of rational choice and routine activities theories cannot be undermined which give an insight into what to look out for and how to put in place the preventive measures to control crime. Theft as a workplace crime can be managed by understanding what items the offenders looking out for, opportunities surrounding such items, characteristics of the targets and detailed understanding of the environment where the targets are situated. It is therefore evident that the knowledge of criminological theories has an immense role to play in assisting the security Manager to manage crime in workplace.