Three security experts shared their thoughts on how to improve security within Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) with Martin Gill, a professor and security expert associated with the Outstanding Security Performance Awards (OSPAs), Perpetuity Research, and Tackling Economic Crime Awards (TECA), during the organizations’ thought leadership webinar, “Business Improvement Districts: Are they examples of security shining or security failing?”.

Panelists included Chris Turner, CEO, British BIDS; Grant Stewart, Senior Projects Manager, Essential Edinburgh; and Karol Doherty, BID Security Manager, WeAreWaterloo BID.

BIDs, which involve businesses joining together to improve the local business trading environment, have achieved varied levels of success. One of the most pressing issues for BIDs is security. While security is core to improving trade in the local communities the BID serves, it is often marginal. As the panelists discussed why security is often lacking and how it can be improved, the common consensus was that despite a lack of funding for increased security, improving communication between the businesses, local law enforcement and other security partners can help BIDs achieve success.

“While many BIDs state that they are actively involved in providing security, often what that involves is both minimal and marginal, although it should involve street patrols and it should involve training BID members,” explains Doherty. “Often BIDs will collect and collate data and intelligence of local threats and build up an understanding of crime patterns and prolific offenders. Sharing this knowledge can help BID members think about how they can best protect against the threats. When done well, this will involve collaboration with the police.”

Doherty cites the theft of customer phones committed by criminals on bikes and e-scooters as being a current concern and says this type of communication between security partners and businesses can help reduce these types of petty crimes and increase security. “The criminals share information with each other about targets,” he says. “The good guys need to share information, too. Often issues such as this can be managed with communication between the businesses, security partners and local law enforcement, as well as joint patrols between security partners and local police.”

However, this collaboration is often difficult when security is not a top priority, when funding is lacking and when businesses do not want to share information about crimes with local law enforcement or other businesses in the BID because it draws bad publicity. Further, as many businesses focus on the finances of the retail end, security is often a lower-ranking concern in their business model. “Security in Edinburgh is a top-three priority,” says Stewart. “The BID funds a police officer who is dedicated to the BID. This was a key development that was only the result of engaging key stakeholders over time; not everyone immediately gets the benefit of spending on security.”

Stewart notes that Edinburgh has issues with the antisocial behavior of youths around the BID, and that the funding of a dedicated police officer has helped tackle this and other crime issues around the BID. “This has generated a good response to tackling issues such as retail crime and antisocial behavior and in creating a sense of safety when working in or visiting the area,” he says. “Another key advantage to employing an officer is that it provides a strong link with the police service and gets them a 'seat at the table."

In addition to communicating with local law enforcement, Stewart makes the suggestion that communication with other BIDs would help increase awareness and, therefore, safety, but is unlikely to happen. “In a perfect world, collaborating with other BIDs is an ideal, but in practice many are small  and without dedicated staff so their ability to be able to meaningfully engage is very limited.”

Turner agrees that collaboration, funding and not prioritizing security limits the success of BIDs. “BIDs differ markedly, about half are small and employ one person, some have no paid staff, others have teams working to improve the area which usually, but not always, includes a commitment to security,” he explains. “Part of the problem for BIDs is the broader context in which they operate: They’ve faced a decade of public sector expenditure reductions and restraint and businesses are reacting to harsh trading conditions by reducing their commitment to providing security. However lamentable it is, it remains a reality.”

However, he is hopeful that things are beginning to change for the better: “Nearly three-quarters of BIDs are now linked to a business crime reduction partnership. The more-organized and developed BIDs provide street patrols and their relationships with the police are often good, so generally they are improving security.”

While it’s difficult for businesses involved in BIDs to fund and prioritize security, the panelists suggest that communication between all involved parties is still an essential, and possible, step. “It is important for the businesses and retailers to discuss with each other and with security partners the concerns, the biggest issues and whether it would be possible, despite the current trend to cuts costs, to invest more money into a security partner to increase safety,” says Stewart.

Turner agrees: “BIDs have to do something and engaging with local partners is the first step. They need to employ a philosophy of the community, businesses and security partners coming together for the common goal of safety.”