YOU MIGHT not know it, but while you’re doing some last-minute Christmas shopping or hitting the city’s clubs and bars, there is a special team working hard behind the scenes to make sure that you stay safe.
Many of you won’t have heard of it, but BACIL (Business Against Crime in Leeds) is well known amongst the retail and night-time sectors.
In fact, over 330 shops, bars and clubs have signed up to be part of the BACIL network, which aims to tackle crime such as shoplifting, mobile phone theft and assault.
The cutting-edge scheme links up participating venues with West Yorkshire Police and with each other via two-way radios and hand-held tablets.
This means that shops, bars and clubs can immediately report any suspicious behaviour or known offenders who are operating in their area and notify others to be on their guard.
The website also allows both BACIL and participating venues to upload images of people they are searching for, or who might be worth keeping an eye on.
And the results speak for themselves.
The latest figures, which run up until November 2014, show the number of violent crime and theft taking place in Leeds city centre and the Crown Point Retail Park area are down by 18 per cent compared to 2013.
The new figures highlight the hard work being done by BACIL to make Leeds a safer place for both day and night time visitors and workers in the city.
Sean Walker, BACIL manager, said he was delighted to see such a notable reduction in incidents of violent crime and theft.
He said: “It is testament to the hard work and commitment of organisations and individuals in taking a hard stance on catching offenders.”
Sean was a police officer for 30 years before moving to his current role, where he oversees the BACIL operation with co-ordinator Rachel McGlynn.
It’s clear that he has a passion for keeping the city centre streets safe.
“BACIL is identified through the other crime partnerships across the country as a role model in what we do,” he says.
“The information BACIL has makes it the only one of its kind in the country.”
He adds: “I am Leeds born and bred and I have always been based around the city centre and I still socialise in the city centre as well, even at the grand old age of 56.
“So I have been around these parts for about 40 years and have seen how it has changed over the years.”
With another eight street marshals, it’s a close-knit team, but with help from other organisations such as West Yorkshire Police, the impact of such a key initiative is felt right across the city centre.
“Our philosophy is based on prevention rather than just being reactive and letting a crime happen,” Sean adds.
“We have to be on the front foot. We share information with West Yorkshire Police and we know if there is a prisoner being released who we need to be aware of.
“We also work with Harrogate, York and Sheffield police to target travelling criminals.
“We make it difficult for offenders in Leeds, and I’m often in meetings where I have to apologise because we have driven criminals out of Leeds and to other neighbouring areas!”
With Christmas just around the corner, it’s even more important that BACIL takes a pro-active approach to targeting potential criminals.
Sean added: “Obviously we are now coming into the busy pre-Christmas period, when Leeds welcomes more visitors than ever in terms of shoppers and party-goers.
“We would, as always, like to remind people to be vigilant over the festive season and keep personal possessions, such as purses, wallets and mobile phones, out of view.”
Sean believes the most common crimes at the moment are bag and phone thefts, and recalls one time when a man was caught hiding 12 stolen mobile phones stuffed down his trousers, but was caught and arrested thanks to the BACIL system.
He adds: “The general message is that if you are out this weekend – particularly for Mad Friday – then don’t leave your phone on the bar or on a table, and keep your stuff near you.
“Leeds is a great place to come and visit and spend time in.
“You have just got to be on your guard like you would if you were visiting any other city.”
In a bid to tackle crime over the festive period, day and night time street marshals will be employed over the next couple of weeks.
Sean added: “We want to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time and finds their way home again safely and the street marshals provide a welcome and reassuring presence.”
The BACIL marshals wear high visibility jackets and are positioned at high footfall areas and known hotspots during busy times.
This has been ongoing every Friday and Saturday night from November 28, and will continue to run until Christmas, as well as Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, from midnight until 4am.
Daytime marshals have also been in place every Saturday and Sunday from November 29 and will continue to be on patrol until December 21.
This is the third year that the street marshal scheme has been run and the feedback from previous years has been extremely positive.
Sean added: “We have seen drops in the number of recorded incidents over the last two Christmas periods.
“This can, in part, be attributed to the presence of the street marshals who have been on hand to reassure members of the public and resolve potential incidents before they escalated.”
If you are a business that wants to sign up to the BACIL network, you can find out more information by visiting the website at www.bacil.org.