UK retail theft

Criminals have ‘freedom to loot’, a UK retailer has complained

The Co-op says that it has seen crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour jump 35 per cent year-on-year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded in the first six months of this year – almost 1,000 incidents every day. With one inner city London store ‘looted’ three times in a single day, the retailer warns that such crime is unsustainable and could even see some communities become a no-go area for local stores. The convenience retailer calls on police forces, and PCCS (police and crime commissioners in political charge of forces) to target prolific offenders and local organised criminal gangs to reverse what’s in many cities – gangs operating without fear of being caught or charged, the retailer complains.

A Freedom of Information request by Co-op has highlighted that Police failed to respond in 71pc of serious retail crimes reported. With some, according to their own data, not responding to nine in ten serious incidents reported. The retailer points also to the Association of Convenience Stores’ (ACS) annual crime report. It shows most (63pc) of crime driven by repeat and prolific offenders, with drug or alcohol addictions and organised crime among the main motivations for offending. As other retailers have consistently reported, crime is often a flash-point for assault, abuse and anti-social behaviour; Co-op said that front-line store workers had seen physical assaults increase year-on-year by 30pc; and, reported anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse rose by a fifth (20pc).

What they say Matt Hood, Co-op Food Managing Director, said: “We know retail crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders and, organised criminal gangs. It is an ongoing challenge for all retailers, and in the worst instances can even be described as ‘looting’. I have seen some horrific incidents of brazen and violent theft in our stores, where my store colleagues feel scared and threatened. I see first-hand how this criminal behaviour also erodes the very fabric of our communities – it’s hard to over-emphasise how important urgent change is. Co-op has invested significantly in keeping colleagues and stores safe, but we need the police to play their part. Too often, Forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams, and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences.” The Co-op says it works with a number of forces such as Nottinghamshire, in tackling persistent and prolific offenders.

The issues run deeper than policing alone however, the Co-op adds. In Nottinghamshire, this year, 17 prolific offenders have been removed off the streets, with a combined 5.6 years of custodial sentences, and a further 13 repeat offenders given a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) or rehabilitation. Most recently after last autumn’s 25th anniversary Retailers Against Crime (RAC) conference in Glasgow, Professional Security Magazine featured West Midlands Police PC Stuart Toogood’s project to reduce crime against retail by offering drug rehabilitation; backed by the Co-op among others. The Co-op says that it uses, to deter criminal behaviour: interactive and remote monitored CCTV; body-worn cameras; communication headsets for front-line staff; covert and non-covert guarding; forensic marking; GPS tracked security cases and, ‘dummy’ packaging on shelves – which Co-op believes will only happen more in retailing. ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Our members are at the sharp end, seeing crime in their communities get steadily worse.” The ACS wants police forces and the Government to do more to take retail crime seriously; among other things the association advocates a ‘Most Wanted’ list of shop thieves in each force area, where prolific offenders can be banned from retail areas or referred to rehabilitation. The ACS document also offers advice on countering crime and violence against staff.

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