• Center for Problem oriented policing

previous page next page

Police-Business Partnerships

Rationale for Partnerships

Community policing efforts often involve increasing police-business communication for the purpose of developing a positive relationship with the business community; these efforts can go as far as the establishment of a formal partnership. Many of these partnerships are initiated because of a general sense that they should be in place, rather than in response to a particular problem. Before establishing a police-business partnership, you should decide what its purpose will be. Forming partnerships merely for the sake of being able to say that you have a good relationship with the business community might well be a waste of time and resources. And in fact, such partnerships are likely to fail, as they lack a clear focus. It is far better to have a particular problem that needs to be addressed before setting out to form a partnership.

Types of Partnerships

Partnerships between police and business can take a variety of forms. In the simplest form, an individual business works with police to address a specific problem faced by that business. In this type of partnership, police can provide guidance on security systems, target-hardening, robbery prevention, and the like. For example, police in Chesterfield County, Virginia review building plans and give business owners advice on low-cost crime prevention through environmental design principles.39 Or, police can work with retailers to prevent shoplifting by estimating the cost of measures such as security guards or closed circuit television and then demonstrating how these expenses can be recovered through the avoidance of the losses that would have otherwise been incurred.40

Although useful for the individual business, such strategies do little to address the underlying problems and behaviors that give rise to larger business crime issues. Multiagency partnerships are a more promising approach to addressing these issues. Such partnerships can take three different forms: area-specific, business-specific, and issue-specific.41


Area-specific partnerships include businesses from a particular geographic location, such as a downtown core, an industrial park, or a shopping district. This type of partnership makes sense where a number of businesses are affected by a problem that is restricted to a certain area, such as thefts from a mall parking lot or rowdy youth in a downtown area.

Business improvement districts (BIDs) are an example of this form of partnership.§ BIDs comprise property and business owners who voluntarily pay a special assessment in addition to their regular taxes. The extra funds are spent on beautification, security, marketing, or whatever else the membership decides is needed to enhance the viability of the area.§§ Typical aims include raising the standards of public spaces; reducing crime, social disorder, and the fear of victimization; improving public transportation; generating sales and revenues for area businesses; and increasing the number of local jobs.42

§ Partnerships similar to BIDs are known as "town centre management" schemes in the United Kingdom.

§§ A BID in Anchorage, Alaska devised a solution to minimize the negative impact of homeless inebriates on downtown businesses and to prevent deaths due to exposure. The Downtown Partnership pays for a number of vans, staffed by emergency medical technicians, which respond to calls-for-service and also patrol areas frequented by street inebriates. The Community Service Patrol picks up people who are perilously intoxicated and transports them to a sleep-off facility, thus lessening the burden on police and ambulance services.

There are an estimated 2,000 BIDs in the United States .43 Although their effectiveness with respect to crime prevention has not been well studied, anecdotal evidence suggests that the strategy holds promise. For example, BID security patrols reportedly helped reduce crime in New York City's Grand Central Station by 60 percent.44 After a BID was formed in the downtown area of Columbia, South Carolina, overall crime declined by 25 percent, citations for public drinking dropped by 90 percent, and car break-ins were halved.45 Police participation in BIDs can take the form of membership on steering groups or boards,46 information sharing with BID employees, 47 and aid in training security personnel.48

Agreements among local businesses to pool the costs of security have met with mixed success. On the one hand, BIDs that seem to be effective are highly organized and often structured according to local legislation. Informal cooperative efforts, on the other hand, which are characterized by "gentlemen's agreements" to share costs, may be difficult to sustain over the long term.49

In the Netherlands , Public-Private Partnership projects have been very successful in reducing property crime in industrial parks. In one example, incidents declined by nearly 75 percent after police convinced local businesses to share the costs of private security. The individual cost was determined by a point system that quantified the size of the business and the attractiveness of its products to offenders. Police also trained a group of unemployed people as security guards; after a year, responsibility for this aspect of the project was shifted to a private security firm. 50


Issue-specific partnerships focus on a certain type of crime or a particular situation, most commonly a public order problem that has reached the point where intervention is needed. This form of partnership need not last once the specific problem is solved. Because they may be short-lived, such partnerships may not need to be formal or institutionalized.

Public drinking and related problems have been addressed using issue-specific partnerships in a number of jurisdictions.51 In Surfers Paradise in southern Queensland, Australia , police partnered with other government agencies, elected officials, the Chamber of Commerce, community members, and the liquor licensing authority to reduce alcohol-related crime, violence and disorder around licensed establishments in the central business district. A steering committee was created, a project officer was appointed, and a community forum was held, after which a number of task groups were formed. Interventions developed by these task groups included Model House Policies for each establishment, a Code of Practice, and training for liquor service staff in areas such as responsible beverage service, care of patrons, and crowd control techniques. Licensees were involved in the problem-solving process, and generally complied with these changes. The result was a significant reduction in assaults and disorderly behavior.52


Business-specific partnerships are often formed in response to a rash of crimes that target a particular type of business, such as bank or convenience store robberies; others are formed to address a specific chronic problem. In Britain, for example, the Secured Car Parks initiative encourages parking lot and garage operators to adopt active management strategies to minimize crime in their facilities. It is in operation in more than 1,000 parking garages and on average has reduced vehicle crimes by up to 70 percent.53 In Tukwila, Washington, the police work with hotels and motels to train employees and conduct safety inspections. The more calls-for-service an establishment has, the more it is compelled by ordinance to engage in these activities.§ 54 The Taxi/Livery Robbery Inspection Program in New York City is an arrangement between the police department and taxi owners that allows police to stop taxis without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, and then to make brief inquiries and conduct visual inspections. Participating taxi owners and drivers sign consent forms, and decals of participation are prominently placed where customers will see them.55

§ For more information, see the Problem-Oriented Policing Guide Disorder at Budget Motels. The Tukwila ordinance is available at http://www.mrsc.org/Ords/T8o1918.aspx.

Partnerships With Private Security

Although figures on the private security industry are imprecise, estimates are that there are currently about two million private security personnel in the United States , working for close to 90,000 individual security companies. Some believe that these security personnel protect about 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure. However, only 5 to 10 percent of police departments are believed to have partnerships with private security.56

There is great diversity within the private security field, including corporate security departments, uniformed guard companies, alarm companies, armored car agencies, investigative firms, and security equipment manufacturers. Accordingly, there is much that a partnership with private security can offer to the police, from information about particular crimes to access to specialized knowledge and technology. 57 Private security can also benefit from such partnerships, because police have legal powers beyond those of private security, and in most cases, have more extensive training as well.58

The activities undertaken by a partnership between police and private security can include networking, information and resource sharing, training, operations, and writing model legislation. With respect to specific crime prevention activities, such a partnership can provide joint security in BIDs or can undertake joint efforts on specific concerns relating to business crime, such as check fraud, false alarms, and so on.59

Steps for Starting a Partnership§

1. Identify key agencies or businesses that should be in the partnership. Besides police and businesses, partnerships can also include other stakeholders—those who have an identifiable interest or stake in the outcome and can bring something useful to the partnership and its efforts. Examples of possible stakeholders are social service agencies, schools, religious and faith-based organizations, government agencies, and community groups. Obviously, the membership will depend on the nature of the problem. Keep in mind that the greater the number of partners, the harder it will be to organize activities or even to get everyone in the same room at the same time. It will also be more difficult to decide on goals and strategies and to maintain communication and cooperation. For this reason, it is probably better to form a partnership with a core group of stakeholders and to invite others to join as the partnership solidifies and other needs arise.

§ The general outline for this section is taken from Institute for Law and Justice (2000).

How to Reach Out to Businesses

One of the earliest steps in any partnership is identifying the particular businesses that should be involved. In the case of area-specific partnerships, this is fairlystraightforward. If the area is small, you can contact business owners and employees by visiting each location. For larger areas, initial contact can occur through the mail. Before this can be done, however, a reliable listing of businesses is needed—and such lists can be surprisingly difficult to obtain. If you use governmental listings of business licenses, you risk excluding unlicensed enterprises, which may be at a higher risk of victimization due to their somewhat hidden operations. Lists from chambers of commerce and similar organizations typically include only those businesses that have paid a membership fee. Telephone books are particularly unreliable, as many small commercial enterprises do not pay for business listing in the Yellow Pages. Some areas have BIDs or other similar business organizations already in place; but here too, keep in mind that such entities may not include all the businesses in a particular area. Therefore, it may be necessary to develop a list of businesses in-house, either by pooling the knowledge of local patrol officers or by conducting a systematic census of the area. The latter is something beat officers can do during their regular patrols.

For business-specific partnerships, a good place to start is with organizations that serve a particular industry, such as an association of retail merchants, bankers, or bar and tavern owners. However, such trade groups may not be helpful in identifying smaller businesses or those from less well-regulated industries. For example, in the United States , the National Association of Convenience Stores represents the convenience store and petroleum marketing industry. The majority of members, however, are franchises or national chain stores; many smaller retail operations, such as bodegas and mom-and-pop stores, do not belong to the national association. Local unions are another source that can assist in identifying potential partners.

The players in issue-specific partnerships are comparatively easy to identify. Looking at call-for-service data will show which businesses are being repeatedly victimized. However, using police data is not without its problems. For example, businesses may be listed in one case by the name and in another by the address. In addition, not all crimes are reported to the police, so call for service data do not necessarily give an accurate picture of the nature and extent of crime against business. Officers who work intensively in an area can be a valuable resource, because they may hear informally of unreported crimes and thus may be able to identify businesses that have been victimized by particular crimes.

2. Make contact with the potential partners. Although initial partnership contacts can be informal, they should be with individuals who have decision- making authority. Informational sessions and meetings are likely to be ineffective, because those who attend will likely already be convinced of the need for a police-business partnership. A better approach is to target an opinion leader in the business community and to encourage that person to promote the partnership. Personal visits with potential partners are also important. Brochures, pamphlets, and other materials that describe the problem to be addressed and explain the nature of the potential partnership can be distributed during such visits.

3. Agree on a purpose for the partnership. Obviously, this will be related to the problem at hand. Partnerships can be formed on a short-term basis to address one particular problem or can be organized with a more distant goal in mind. In the latter case, tackling a small problem early in the process can establish a record of success that encourages ongoing participation.

4. Structure the partnership. Like all organizations, partnerships entail a host of logistical problems. For example, where and how often will meetings be held? How formal will the meetings be and who will run them? Where will partnership mail be received? Will the partnership have a physical home, and if so, where? What information will be shared with partnership members? Many of these issues can be addressed informally, particularly in small partnerships that are designed to address one problem. However, if you plan to keep the group functioning independently of a specific problem, a formal structure, specified in memoranda of understanding or bylaws, is better for the long-term viability of the partnership.

5. Train the partners. A useful method for solving problems is the SARA approach. SARA stands for scanning, analysis, response, and assessment. This approach is at the heart of problem-oriented policing. The partnership will have been formed with some problem in mind, but using the SARA process will allow you to be more specific about the nature of the problem and what is contributing to it. This will lead you to identify solutions that focus tightly on the problem, and to determine whether what the partnership did to address the problem worked. Training in the essentials of SARA should happen at the very early stages of the partnership.

6. Decide on a plan of action. If you know which problems will be specifically addressed by the partnership, this is the time to spell out the responsibilities and activities of the different partners. To keep partners involved in the process, assign them specific tasks to be completed by the next meeting.

7. Assess the effectiveness of your plan of action. Did the partnership achieve its goals? Another guide in this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers, can be a useful analytical tool.

8. Discuss the future of the partnership. You can continue working towards the original goal, identify new problems that need to be addressed and determine a plan of action for dealing with it, or dissolve the group.

Building Upon Existing Networks

There may be business networks in place, such as BIDs or chambers of commerce, that you can build upon in creating a partnership. There are several advantages to this approach. First, the existing network will provide a ready forum to introduce the police personnel involved in the problem- solving effort, to discuss the problem of crime in the area or among a particular business sector, and to develop ideas and solutions. Second, working through an existing network can lend legitimacy to partnership activities—assuming that the network is favorably viewed by target businesses. Third, resources that would otherwise have been expended identifying potential partners and organizing the partnership can be applied directly toward the problem-solving process.60

Using existing networks also has a downside. Some groups require members to pay dues, which could very well prevent smaller businesses from joining—the very businesses that are often disproportionately affected by crime. In addition, if the network does not represent certain business sectors, the most appropriate crime prevention measures might not be implemented. For example, in order to address the problems associated with rowdy behavior by drunken bar patrons at closing time, it only makes sense to build upon an existing business network that includes many or most of the local bars and taverns. If the majority of members are liquor retailers, the group will likely not be much help in designing an effective remedial strategy. In addition, where many targeted businesses are not members of the network, building upon the network may alienate those businesses, particularly if there is a history of conflict between members and non-members. Finally, there is always the possibility that the network's other priorities will derail or otherwise influence the crime prevention effort, especially where there is too much reliance on the group and its resources.61

Key Elements of Successful Partnerships§

§ This list of key elements is taken from Institute for Law and Justice (2000). Another useful resource is the COPS Collaboration Toolkit, which discusses in detail how to build, fix, and sustain partnerships to help implement community policing (Rinehart et al. 2001).


The top executives of the participating partners must support the partnership, even if they are not personally involved in the activities of the group. Where subordinates are the primary representatives, they should have ready access to their superiors. It is also important for those who are leading the partnership to maintain interest in the group's activities.


In the early stages of a partnership, it is important to have a committed person who will do the difficult work required to secure the cooperation of other partners.


Although an informal structure can work initially, a more formal organization will eventually be needed to ensure that the partnership does not disintegrate due to changes in personnel (e.g., if the facilitator leaves) or other unforeseen circumstances. Memoranda of agreement or understanding can help establish a formal structure and solidify the goals and commitments of the various partners.


Partnerships need supplies to support group activities and to ensure good communication among the partners. Possible funding sources include corporate sponsorship and donations from member businesses and police agencies. Not surprisingly, a lack of resources and funding, particularly in the form of support staff, can make it difficult to keep a partnership going very long.

Mission and Goals

The partnership must have a clear purpose in order to motivate people to get involved. Moreover, the mission should be achievable, because if people think the goal is unrealistic they may see little benefit in working towards it.

Tangible Results

Progress towards achieving the goals of the partnership will become evident when the group moves beyond mere organizational activities and begins producing tangible results. In the long run, of course, determining what constitutes "success" is up to the group; success can, however, be measured using a variety of more objective performance indicators.§ Remember: if partners are repeatedly subjected to boring meetings, or if it seems as though nothing is being accomplished, interest will diminish and members may disengage.

§ Examples of these performance indicators, and how to measure them, are given in the Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers guide in this series, as well as in other problem-specific guides.


Maintaining positive relationships among partnership members can be complicated by a variety of issues, such as competing interests or concerns about confidentiality. Educating partners about the operation and realities of member businesses can build respect and trust. For example, police who are frustrated by the reluctance of business owners to aid in the prosecution of employee thieves or shoplifters might benefit from knowing that this reluctance stems from the fact that aiding in criminal prosecutions often costs businesses more than does doing nothing at all.

It is also important to address issues that concern many or most partnership members. If problems are defined by part of the group (e.g., by the police only) rather than the group as a whole, there will be little incentive for the businesses to continue their involvement. Balancing the competing agendas of the various partners is essential to the long-term viability of the partnership.

Early Successes

Positive early results will generate excitement and increase the likelihood of continued member involvement. In addition, publicizing these successes can cause other potential partners to support or to join the group. Conversely, if partnerships are to carry on past early successes, it is important to have more distant goals to work towards. Remember, however, that where a partnership is formed to address a specific problem there may be little reason to keep the group together once the problem has been solved.62

Effective Partnership Strategies and Activities

These examples of successful police partnerships with small business come from the Safer Cities program in England. Whether these potential responses will work for you depends of course on the specific problem you are dealing with, and what you learned in your analysis. Other Problem-Oriented Policing Guides include more ideas for preventing crimes that concern businesses.

Security Upgrades

Installing target-hardening measures, including roller shutters, alarm systems, security lighting, window grills, bars, and mesh, and closed circuit television had an immediate and substantial impact on burglary victimization in a variety of businesses in two cities in England . Businesses that had been victimized previously tended to participate in this program, which reimbursed participants for part of the cost of the various remedial measures undertaken. Of these, shutters and alarms seemed to be the most effective.63 Also in England , pharmacies that were deemed by the police to have adequate target-hardening measures in place were much less likely to be burglarized than were other pharmacies.64

Targeting Repeat Victimization

Once a business has been burglarized, it has a much greater risk of being victimized a second time. This risk is highest in the first few months after the initial victimization.65 Therefore, where limited resources are available for crime prevention, it makes sense to focus on businesses that have already been victimized. Identifying these businesses entails systematically reviewing incident reports and separating business cases from residential ones. Supplying high-risk businesses with advice about target-hardening measures and supporting their installation is likely to reduce burglaries significantly.

Strategies of Unknown Effectiveness

Storefront Substations

Storefront police substations are typically located in business areas such as shopping malls or commercial strips. Substations can be staffed by sworn officers or volunteers. Although substations primarily serve the needs of residents, their location allows for contact between police and businesses, which often provide space, furnishings, or other needed supplies. In Houston, Texas for example, businesses donated furniture and a sign; in Anchorage, Alaska, a grocery store set aside part of its warehouse for a substation.

Storefront substations are not a particularly effective way of reaching citizens or businesspeople or of improving problem-solving capabilities. One study found that African-Americans, renters, young people, those with low education, those with low income, and short-term residents were unlikely to have used the services of a storefront substation or even to have heard of its presence in the neighborhood. In addition, substations had little apparent impact on businesspeople in terms of victimization or concern about crime, although there were improvements in levels of fear about personal victimization and in evaluations of police service.66 Where storefront substations do not make a big difference for businesses in the area, it may be because businesses generally have fairly routine contact with police; a new storefront substation will not change that.

Remember, however, that a storefront substation can lead retailers to report victimizations to the police more often than they would if there was no substation. On the surface, this will make it appear that crime in the area has increased, while in fact all that has changed is the level of reporting.67 Uncovering this explanation for the change in crime rates requires conducting a survey of businesses to assess whether the likelihood of reporting has increased.

Storefront substations can benefit businesses indirectly as well. For example, police in Queensland, Australia found that a high proportion of residents responded favorably to storefront substations in shopping malls because they felt safer while shopping and thought the police were more accessible.68 If people feel safer shopping in an area, they are more likely to shop there, thus increasing patronage, sales, and revenue.

The success of a storefront substation depends upon the type of activities conducted and the manner in which the substation is run. For example, substations are not good assignments for officers who require a great deal of supervision or who are not highly self-motivated. It is also important to ensure that substation officers feel a sense of ownership, perhaps through involvement in its planning. Frequent turnover of staff should be avoided.69

Business Police Academies

The business police academy (BPA) is an innovative approach designed to encourage the exchange of information between businesses and police and to build mutual understanding and trust. The BPA is modeled after the citizen police academy (CPA), but the two differ in several key respects. First, while CPA students are drawn from a wide range of citizens, the BPA specifically targets businesspeople, be they in retail, service, banking, or other industries. Second, unlike the wide-ranging CPA curriculum, BPA curriculum concentrates intensely on the prevention of and responses to property and violent crimes that affect businesses. Third, CPA curriculum is typically taught by police officers, whereas the specialized nature of BPA curriculum sometimes requires instructors from outside the department, such as loss prevention experts from retail businesses or government employees who work to combat counterfeiting.70

Business police academies are inexpensive to establish and operate; the cost can be covered by sponsoring businesses. The benefit to the police of organizing a BPA makes it a reasonable use of resources. Because BPA students are educated about the costs of crime against business, they should be more willing to report crimes and to aid in criminal investigations. Although there may be an initial increase in reported crimes, learning about prevention strategies should reduce real levels of victimization over time.71

Business police academies have recently started in Honolulu, Hawaii;§ St. Louis, Missouri;§§ Harrisburg, Pennsylvania;§§§ and London, Ontario.§§§§

§See www.starbulletin.com/2003/09/11/business/engle.html.

§§ See www.co.st-louis.mo.us/scripts/PD/press/view.cfm?ViewMe=5033.

§§§ See www.harrisburgpa.gov/pressReleases/prArchives/2003/11/20031114_ citizensPoliceAcd.html.

§§§§ www.oldeastvillage.com/bpa/main/. A model curriculum for an eight-week BPA offered by the London, Ontario police is available at www.oldeastvillage.com/bpa/courseOutline/week1.php.

Business Watch

Business watch is a variation on the neighborhood or block watch program, except that the participants are business owners and employees rather than residents and homeowners. Research on the effectiveness of residential watch programs is not promising.72 When they are effective, they tend to be in areas where there is already an underlying level of community cohesion. Neighborhoods that could benefit most are so disorganized that it is extremely difficult to get the program going.73 There is little evidence that business watch programs are any more effective than neighborhood watch programs; and like neighborhood programs, business watches are hard to establish.74 Before embarking on a business watch program, specific objectives should be laid out and crime prevention goals should be directed at a specific type of crime. While business watch can be useful because it can increase communication among members,75 after a program is established, its long-term viability can be threatened by limited financial resources, time constraints, and low levels of enthusiasm and involvement.76 Evaluators of a business watch program in Australia found that most participants were unaware of the program or its components and thought it was ineffective in reducing crime or fear of crime. The researchers concluded that the program failed because of lack of enthusiasm, poor publicity, and a lack of clear objectives.77 One approach that may work better is "cocooning": when a business is burglarized, neighboring businesses are encouraged to be especially vigilant over that property for several weeks, until the risk of repeat victimization declines. 78

Police Inspections§

§ Thanks to the anonymous reviewer who suggested the idea of police inspection and certification for licensing of businesses.

Most jurisdictions have ordinances that require food service businesses to be inspected regularly by the health department as a condition of receiving or renewing their licenses. Other types of businesses are also subject to regular inspection as a condition of operation. Often, police departments are involved in these inspections, although typically they are concerned with issues such as the impact of special events on traffic or whether the operator of a business is of good moral character.

As of means of encouraging reluctant businesses to adopt crime prevention strategies, an ordinance could be enacted that ties business licensing to site inspection by police. A point system could be used to rate the extent to which the business has followed the guidelines for reducing and preventing crime in and around its premises. Other relevant factors could include the number of false alarms (see the False Burglar Alarms Problem-Oriented Policing Guide for more information) and the number of calls-for-service. Businesses that meet the standards and have licenses granted or renewed could be required to post their certification in a prominent location.

Where such an ordinance is not feasible, it may be possible to establish a voluntary certification program. In conjunction with the program, a media campaign could identify businesses that are good community citizens or partners in crime prevention and could encourage customers to frequent such businesses.

Some years ago, Bellevue, Washington implemented a cooperative program that involved the insurance industry, local businesses, and police. Business owners were invited to a one-day seminar on crime prevention presented by the police, followed by on-site security audits of the retail establishments. Participation in the program increased dramatically after an economic incentive was offered: insurance companies began offering up to 25 percent lower rates based upon efforts to implement crime prevention measures.79


Traditional methods of dealing with business crime have not always been effective, as is evidenced by the extremely high level of business victimization. A problem-solving approach involving business partnerships holds a great deal of promise. Partnerships can be small and short-lived, with the goal of addressing one particular problem, or can comprise many partners, address complex social issues, and function for an extended period of time.

Although this guide provides guidelines for creating and sustaining partnerships, it bears repeating that partnerships should not be formed just for the sake of having a partnership. This does not mean that the police should not communicate with businesses, as there are many legitimate reasons to do so. These relationships and communications, although not formally structured, can be an important part of an overall community policing strategy. However, if problem-oriented policing is the underlying reason for the partnership, then there should be a specific issue for the partnership to address.

previous page next page