Police representatives of regions in England and Wales with the worst increases in shoplifting have defended their actions and outlined how they intend to protect shop owners.
In response to Office for National Statistics crime statistics showing a 24% rise in shoplifting in the past year alone, Better Retailing challenged police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in the worst-hit areas on their track records.
The police forces with the largest shoplifting rises in the past year are Avon and Somerset (+46%), Sussex (+42%), Humberside (+38%), Gwent (+38%), and Cambridgeshire (+37%).
With the highest shoplifting rise, Avon and Somerset PCC Mark Shelford failed to include any mention of shoplifting or retail crime in his 33-page crime plan. He defended the shoplifting rise by stating that the region’s police “are proactive in their approach to preventing, reducing and catching those who regularly shoplift”, and neighbourhood police teams work to encourage retailers to report crime.
He also noted that Bristol antisocial behaviour and neighbourhood policing teams work together to implement Criminal Behaviour Orders, which can ban offenders from entering certain stores or areas.
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In Sussex, which had the second-highest increase in shoplifting, rates may have been high due to a new system trialled since July 2022 to simplify and increase reporting of retail crime.
PCC Katy Bourne made multiple references to retail crime in her police and crime plan. She told Better Retailing: “Sussex records [retail crime] in a way that it can be captured better than some other forces. The reason we’ve had that specific increase is due to the pilot we’ve been running with 24 Co-op stores in the past 12 months.
“At the touch of a button, we’ve taken the average time to report crime down from 30 minutes to about two.”
However, Bourne acknowledged that if all retailers had access to the new reporting method, “police wouldn’t be able to resource it”.
“Only about 30% of what Co-op is reporting to us is actionable,” she added. “We’re trying to see how we make what stores report to us more meaningful.”
Despite Humberside seeing shoplifting spike by 38% and no mention of retail crime or shoplifting in PCC Jonathan Evison’s 24-page police and crime plan, the region’s police said it is working to address the problem. A spokesperson said stores have “increased” their CCTV and security systems. They said they are focusing on repeat locations and offenders. Evison’s press team stated he has “met with local retail representatives” to discuss how to reduce shoplifting.
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In Gwent, where the shoplifting increase matched Humberside’s, there was also no mention of retail crime or shoplifting in the PCC’s 20-page plan. Chief superintendent Nick McLain defended the 38% rise, arguing that the pandemic “makes it hard to make direct comparisons” as lockdowns resulted in a drop in some types of crime.
McLain also warned that “caution should be applied when comparing with other police services” due to the “differing regulations” in England and Wales during the pandemic period. He said that compared with pre-pandemic data between 2019-2020, shoplifting has decreased by 13% in 2022-2023.
A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire police, which did mention shoplifting in its police and crime plan, echoed McLain’s defence for the area’s 37% rise in shoplifting, telling Better Retailing that the statistics should be viewed “in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic”, as the crime levels are returning to “more normal levels” in the past year.
The Fed told Better Retailing it is planning a series of meetings with PCCs to address the challenges, beginning with Staffordshire PCC Ben Adams on 19 September.
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