Home > Opinion > Theft by employees and the effect of CCTV

Theft by employees and the effect of CCTV

According to a survey from Det Kriminalpræventive Råd (Crime Prevention Advisory Board), 20% of employees have stolen large things from their employers and one-third have stolen office supplies in some form or other.  So when you are sitting on the bus looking around at 50 passengers, 10 of those could well have left-over stock, computer equipment or a piece of furniture tucked under their shirts along with a another 16 (Not sure if it’s the same people and I am sure there is an overlap) of them with paper clips, pens, photocopy paper, printer ink and so on in their bags.


In my experience of selling CCTV systems to companies, employee theft can range from something simple like taking empty bottles for the refunds through to complicated schemes and scams run by teams of bartenders.  How they do it is a subject for another post altogether.

The point is, in my view, that those that do it don’t think it is harming the company.  After all, what harm does a single bartender or waiter taking home an extra 150 kroner. No-one’s going to notice that on a busy night are they?  The fact is that if there are 8 waiters and bartenders working on a night and they all decide to do it that’s kr 1200 a night pure profit that’s disappeared from the bottom line or about kr 400,000 a year.  The owner can’t understand why he’s not doing better because the place is busy every night and quite possibly his stock control systems are a little inaccurate or behind.  I have been told by a large store in Copenhagen that 2 professional size ovens were stolen from their warehouse by employees.  Other stories include pallets of laptops, huge amounts of cash and even an entire truckload of inventory. One customer, a hairdresser, was losing bottles of expensive shampoo and conditioner every single day from her stock room.

It is estimated that 1.24% of Denmark’s retail sales is stolen by employees; a term often called shrinkage for obvious reasons. The European average is 1.23%.  This was according to figures from 2007 so a little out of date but poignant none the less.

Can CCTV prevent these thefts?  In my experience, absolutely.  I have installed systems in some shops where the owner has  insisted his  turnover rose as much as 5% after cameras were placed over the cash register.   Others have said that their employees asked for raises as they couldn’t maintain the same lifestyle once they could no longer steal. Employees will think twice about taking money from the till and putting in their pockets.  Also, with systems being configurable and operable over the internet, employees never really know when someone might be watching.  An employer no longer has to stand in the shop to review recordings.  This is now possible remotely  from a notebook,  Iphone, Blackberry or Windows Mobile.  The company that had a problem with theft of empty bottles caught the culprit within a few days of putting up a camera.  This was also after informing all staff that there was now CCTV installed.  It is one thing that does puzzle me slightly.  After employees are told that a CCTV system has been installed and they are now under surveillance, some employees still steal right in front of the camera.

Linking up a POS (point of sale) system to the cameras is also now possible.  Using this technology, searches can be made for  key words such as ‘no sale’  (a button where the till can be opened without a sale being made) and review the accompanying video.  On the same basis it is possible to see what items were placed on the counter and exactly what items were entered into the register.

There is a negative side to installing CCTV in the work place.  Staff can view the installation of cameras as a breach of their rights, a sign that they are not trusted or just plain irritating.  So this decision and action to install a system has to be handled with diplomacy and discretion.  There are , as you would expect, laws regarding the surveillance of employees in Denmark. Here is an excellent document explaining the law regarding CCTV issued by the Justice Ministry (only in Danish, I’m afraid). Look to page 14 for specific about surveillance in the workplace.


I would recommend that if you are going to install a system at your business, talk to your employees first and explain why you want to set cameras up and that it isn’t just to spy on them.  A good and very reasonable explanation can be that it is for own their security and safety.  It is necessary in some cases to make an addition to their contract especially if the areas under surveillance are not customer areas.

As a last point, CCTV in the workplace, providing it is visible, is a proven deterrent against shoplifters, robberies and employee theft.  A lot of my customers tend to have the majority of cameras visible and a couple of covert ones.  And don’t forget, if you have a CCTV system, spend some time actually looking at recordings.  You might be surprised at what you find.

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