Co-op suffered over a third of a million incidences of crime in 2023, marking a record year of theft and violence against its staff.
The convenience retailer said that equated to almost 1,000 incidents a day across its 2,400 stores, a rise of 44% year on year.
The figures include 41,875 incidents of anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse, which are up 37%, despite Co-op introducing over £200m in security measures to make its stores and communities safer.
The government’s Retail Crime Action Plan was showing “green shoots” in improving police response, however, according to the Co-op.
The society detained over 3,000 offenders in 2023, using specially trained undercover security guards.
Since the Retail Crime Action Plan came into effect in October, the police non-attendance rate had improved to 38%. However, that still equated to two in five detained criminals walking away, which was continuing to send a message that the crimes were consequence-free, the Co-op added.
With crime reaching record levels, the Co-op has commissioned a new report, written by Emmeline Taylor, professor of criminology at City, University of London. The report sets out a 10-point plan focused on turning the tide on prolific offenders who were continuing to ”beset the retail sector, blight communities and wreak physical and mental harm on store workers”.
The recommendations include PCCs committing to developing a strategy to tackle retail crime in their police and crime plans, introducing specialist ‘Intensive Supervision Courts’ for retail crime, and implementing a standalone offence for the protection of retail workers.
An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that would make attacking a shopworker a standalone offence was recently tabled by shadow minister for policing Alex Norris.
The proposed amendment was voted against by the government during the committee stage last week. However, there will be another vote in parliament by all MPs at the report stage soon.
Co-op is encouraging all its 57,000 colleagues, and five million member-owners, to write to their MP to back the bill amendment.
Support for legislation
“We are seeing far too many prolific offenders persistently steal large volumes of products in our shops every day, and, if they are stealing to fund addictions, the situation often becomes volatile and dangerous,” said Co-op Food MD Matt Hood. “Crime is an occupation for some – it is not petty crime, and it is not victimless.
“It is imperative MPs don’t turn their backs on shopworkers, and vote through the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to give my colleagues the protection they deserve. Taking on board Professor Taylor’s recommendations, with a collaborative approach between the retail industry, the police, and the government, will send out a loud and clear message to all those who commit brazen and violent acts of theft that time is now up on their criminal ways.”
Taylor added: “Retail crime not only impacts on a business’s ability to operate safely and profitably, but as my report demonstrates it also causes serious harm to shopworkers, both physically and mentally, and to communities that are blighted by persistent offending.
“The police in England and Wales have lost grip on the scale and severity of acquisitive crime, and, in turn, retailers have lost confidence in them and the wider criminal justice system. My report sets out 10 actionable recommendations to turn the tide on the current tsunami of shop theft. By taking decisive action to tackle high-volume, high-impact retail crime, the police and retail industry can work together to create safer communities in which to live, work and shop.”
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis added: “Retail crime is not victimless and has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers. Having to deal with repeated and persistent offenders can cause anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers. It was deeply disappointing that the government have no measures in their legislative programme to tackle high levels of retail crime and safeguard shopworkers.
“Labour is seeking to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to strengthen the law to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse. We urge Tory MPs and ministers to end their long-held opposition to a protection of shopworkers law, which has already exists in Scotland and has led to over 500 convictions.”