Prolific shoplifters are not typically the first people who come to mind when considering a ‘most wanted’ criminals list. But to convenience retailers, they are up there with the worst of them. 

The notion of convenience retailers calling for such a high alert list to deter prolific shoplifters seems somewhat unconventional. But the current reality means it has become the sad truth.

According to the Association of Convenience Stores’ 2023 Crime Report, published last week, theft across the sector has reached record highs, with 1.1 million incidents reported over the past year, and 63% of them being committed by repeat offenders – who often have addiction issues or are part of organised criminal groups.

Given many of these offenders are already on the radar, it seems only sensible to use existing evidence and resources to build a shop thieves list in consultation with retailers. In fact, such a model has already been adopted by Nottingham Police and could be rolled out nationally relatively easily.

Tougher penalties on those who attack shopworkers

It wouldn’t be the first time the ACS has campaigned for such action. Take the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, for example, which brings tougher penalties on those who attack shopworkers. It was an almighty victory for trade bodies, unions and retailers who had long battled against the rising tide of retail crime when the government finally tabled the amendment to its flagship crime bill in December 2021.

But it was only until the pandemic took abuse and violence towards staff to abhorrent new lows before stronger measures were put in place beyond “warm words and working groups”, as ACS CEO James Lowman once said.

It even got the point where some customers were threatening to cough or spit on colleagues with the intent to ‘give them coronavirus’. So, what will it take before we see changes this time?

Even with coronavirus restrictions behind us, other triggers of violence have come to the fore. Challenging thieves, ironically, is the number one trigger of violence and clearly puts retailers in a predicament, especially when it’s the big budget items – meat and alcohol – that are being targeted. 

The ACS says “people are more important than property” and guidance states retailers should not engage with thieves to avoid threats of violence and abuse. So retailers are immediately at a loss here.

Most wanted list is not the whole solution

A ‘most wanted’ list could be a small contribution to the overall solution. But it wouldn’t go far enough to stamp out the issue. 

Instead, reviewing the impact of the legislation that makes attacking a public-facing worker an aggravated offence might be a better place to start because, is it really working as intended? It’s a vicious circle – staff don’t confront thieves for fear of retaliation and so the criminals continue to rob because there are no repercussions.

In fact, only 16% of all retail crime is reported to the police. Primarily because, according to the ACS report, the sector doesn’t have confidence in a follow-up investigation. It also perceives there to be a lack of interest from police.

What is needed is for a strong and clear message to be sent to criminals and repeat offenders showing they will be dealt with properly. Retailers must be able to work without fear of threat or violence.