According to a 2007 survey commissioned by the office of the Office of the Presidency, 54% of 446 small businesses surveyed had experienced an incident of crime in the previous year. The types of crime were mainly burglary (43% of incidents), shoplifting (23%), and robbery (19%). Other crimes cited by the small businesses were fraud, petty theft, vandalism, car theft and street violence. The survey found that small businesses in Cape Town were more likely to have experienced crime than those in either Johannesburg or Durban. Small businesses with average turnover of less than R5 000 per year, and R800 000 to R1 million per year respectively were the hardest hit by crime. More recent data from the South African Police Service (as stated in the SAPS 2009/10 Annual Report) shows that in the year between 2008/09 and 2009/10:
- The frequency of burglaries at non-residential premises increased by 2.5%.
- The frequency of burglaries at residential premises (relevant for home-based businesses) increased by 4%.
- The frequency of robberies at business premises increased by 4.4% and at residential premises by 1.9%.
- The frequency of shoplifting increased by 9.7%.
- The frequency of commercial crimes (e.g. fraud, forgery, embezzlement) increased by 9.5%.
Given these grim statistics, what can small business owners do to reduce their vulnerability to crime, and to mitigate the negative impact of crime on the business when it does take place? Measures that can be taken by small business owners include:
- Insuring the business against crime.
- Improving security on the premises by hiring security guards and an armed response company, installing CCTV cameras and spotlights with motion sensors.
- Installing tracking devices on company vehicles.
- Varying the times of bank visits, and for the collection and depositing of deliveries.
- Minimising cash transactions.
- Joining Community Policing Forums to get information from the police about crime trends and how to protect themselves, and to enable small business owners to build relationships with the police. Small business owners can also contact or join Business Against Crime South Africa (www.bac.co.za) which has a national branch network and is involved in a number of crime fighting initiatives.
- Conducting background checks of prospective employees, and limiting the number of people who manage sensitive transactions and activities in the business.
The costs of implementing the above interventions vary and might prove prohibitive for small businesses, particularly those competing on cost or are in sectors with narrow profit margins. Where money is an issue, small businesses should do what they can afford based on a formal or informal crime risk assessment and scenario planning to think through the impact crime would have on the business.