A London wine bar owner who invented an online crime reporting system because he was fed up with the level of petty theft in pubs, bars and shops has seen crime at his own business drop 40% since its introduction.
Simon Gordon, who owns Gordon's wine bar in London's Villiers Street, hopes that Facewatch - which allows businesses to capture CCTV images of new and known offenders and share them online with other businesses as well as with the police - will help cut crime and reduce the amount of time it takes to report an incident.
Gordon has already gained approval from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) for Facewatch - the only system of its type to have such approval - and now plans to roll it out across the country.
It has been undergoing a trial in the Victoria Business Improvement District since November last year in 31 businesses, including Gordon's, several pubs, a Pret A Manger and other shops like Sainsbury's.
The system allows users to access a website where the victim of a theft can produce an online witness statement in standard police format, before the business uploads CCTV footage of the incident to a central server where it is picked up by police officers who can start investigating the crime.
"I used to be an accountant but took over Gordon's in 2002 after my father died. When I started we had more bag and laptop thefts than I was happy with and I used to wonder why the police would ask for disks with 30 minutes of CCTV footage, sometimes from several different cameras. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack," Gordon told Caterer.
The Facewatch system allows operators of individual sites, who know their premises and where the cameras are located to find the relevant footage themselves, rather than cutting disks containing long sequences of footage for the police.
And while Gordon conceded that the process would be slightly more time-consuming for operators in the short term, he argued that the process of providing disks to the police was time-consuming anyway and that the online system would eventually be quicker for operators.
Nic Harper, unit manager of the Wetherspoons pub in Victoria station, is in charge of one of the businesses using the system, where it helped lead to an arrest on its first day in operation.
"It is a lot easier, quicker and more professional for us to be able to deal with a crime when it has happened. It is a bit a of a learning curve for the people who are using it but, generally speaking, once people get used to it the system is a lot easier. I am quite in favour of it as a publican," she said.
Detective chief superintendent Sue Hill, of the Metropolitan Police, told Caterer: "Facewatch is still in its infancy but I think it is fabulous. It bridges that gap between us and the private sector. We continue to report and investigate crime but it saves us and the victim a lot of time and it will increase convictions. In the West End, handbag theft and low-level crime is on the rise so we are very pleased Simon has taken it on and is running with it, and we would encourage other businesses to do the same."
The system costs £15 a month for businesses with an annual turnover of under £500,000, rising on a sliding scale to about £200 a month for the largest businesses. There are no upfront investments or contracts.
And Gordon hopes that Facewatch could soon be used throughout the country. "We are talking to some groups and multiple retails across the country, as well as building links with police forces in those areas. My firm belief is that within a year, this will be the way you report low-level crime," he said.
top 10 worst cities for pickpocketing
London was named last year as the world's 10th-worst city of pickpocketing by TripAdvisor. The full list is:
1. Barcelona, Spain
2. Rome, Italy
3. Paris, France
4. Madrid, Spain
5. Athens, Greece
6. Prague, Czech Republic
7. Costa Brava, Spain
8. Lisbon, Portugal
9. Tenerife, Spain
10. London, England