Police react to shoplifting rise

Police representatives from the UK's five worst hit shoplifting areas discuss what their force is trying to do to improve retail crime

ONS figures, released 20 July 2023, showed that shoplifting rates soared by 24% in the UK in the past year, with the worst hit areas being Avon and Somerset (46%), Sussex (42%) and Humberside (38%), Gwent (38%), and Cambridgeshire (37%).

With the highest shoplifting rate in the UK, Avon & Somerset PCC Mark Shelford defended crime in the area, commenting that the towns and city centres “have a predominant retail environment”.

He continued that the county’s police are “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, which helps “shape a clearer picture of the problem”. He also noted the most prolific offenders are targeted, and that the Bristol Anti-Social Behaviour and Neighbourhood Policing teams work together to implement CBOs.

In Sussex, which had the second-highest level of shoplifting in the UK, rates may have been high due to a new system installed for the reporting of retail crime, achieved through technology and smarter police processes.

PCC Katy Bourne explained: “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 last 12 months.

From July 2022 to July 2023, Sussex police have implemented “much faster” reporting methods for retail crime – “at the touch of a button, we’ve taken the average time to report crime down from 30 minutes to about two,” said Bourne.

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However, Bourne acknowledges that if all retailers “got switched on” to the new reporting method, “police wouldn’t be able to resource it”.

“Only about 30% of what the 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%, the region’s police media team said it is working hard to reduce this with communities, shops and businesses, and that stores have “increased” their security measures, namely CCTV and security. The team is looking to focus on repeat locations and repeat offenders, it said.

PCC Jonathan Evison did not comment, but his press team stated that he has “met with local retail representatives” to discuss the issue of retail crime and how it can be reduced.

Coronavirus context

In Gwent, Wales, shoplifting rates were the same as Humberside. While the area’s PCC did speak to Better Retailing, 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 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 pandemic”, as the crime levels are returning to “more normal levels” last year.

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