Some good news to report on retail crime at last – no, it’s not falling or anything like that. It is still, as we know, a rampantly out-of-control issue that is wreaking havoc in stores up and down the country.
No, the good news is that the government, senior police chiefs and retailers have agreed a new Retail Crime Action Plan.
The plan includes the creation of a specialist new police team tasked with building a comprehensive intelligence picture of the organised crime gangs that fuel many shoplifting incidents across the country, to help target and dismantle them.
This element, called Pegasus, is a business and policing partnership aimed at improving the way retailers are able to share intelligence with policing, to better understand the tactics used by organised retail crime gangs and identify more offenders. It is being headed by Katy Bourne, the business crime lead for the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners, backed by the Home Office and partly funded by £840,000 pledged by leading retailers.
This genuinely could be a game-changer, as long as the funding continues to roll in, but in any case the benefits are only likely to be seen in the medium to long term. In the short term, there were some important pledges to be found in the plan.
Utilising facial recognition
These were a police commitment to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shoplifting instances involving violence against a shopworker, where security guards have detained an offender or where attendance is needed to secure evidence. Police have also reaffirmed their pledge to follow up on any evidence that could reasonably lead to catching a perpetrator. Forces will step up targeted hotspot patrols in badly affected areas.
Where CCTV or other digital images are available, police will run this through the Police National Database using facial recognition technology to further aid efforts to identify and prosecute offenders – particularly prolific or potentially dangerous individuals.
If these pledges are kept to by police forces across the country, then it should not only have a very real impact on the number of instances of retail crime, but also the severity. It will perhaps even go some way towards making retail staff feel supported and less vulnerable, helping to restore some of the deserved pride they felt while being lauded for their efforts to help feed the nation during the height of the pandemic.
Well done to the government on this one, but the bulk of the praise must go to the leading retailers and trade bodies who have been lobbying so hard on this subject for years now.
Petition by Tesco’s Jenny Whyte
The turning point seemed to be figures released in July by the Co-op showing how criminal acts had jumped 35% since the start of the year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded – amounting to almost 1,000 a day. The society said at the time there was more evidence that the crime sprees were being driven by repeat offenders and organised crime gangs, with the amount of stock stolen at a time hitting up to £500. It also described how one London store had been “looted” three times in one day.
The report grabbed headlines all over the UK and even further afield and seemed to jolt police chiefs into action in terms of committing to take retail crime more seriously. The Co-op’s efforts to highlight the issue were soon backed up by big-name industry figures such as Tesco CEO Ken Murphy and John Lewis Partnership executive chairman Sharon White.
But it wasn’t just the top brass – a petition by Jenny Whyte, a Tesco store worker, which launched this month aimed at making abuse or violence towards retail workers a standalone criminal offence, has already received over 20,000 signatures.
Of course, there is a cost of living crisis and some thefts will unfortunately be driven by necessity, but the huge increase in crime hitting the food and drink sector is clearly about much more than that.
The industry’s measured response, which for the most part has steered clear of sensationalism, appears at this stage to have succeeded in getting government and police to listen and crucially take action. Let’s just hope that action proves effective.