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The retailer has reported 1,000 incidents a day in the past six months

Crime hitting Co-op stores has become “out of control”, as the convenience retailer reports record levels of theft and antisocial behaviour during the past six months.

According to new data released by the Co-op today (27 July), criminal acts have jumped 35% since the start of the year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded – amounting to almost 1,000 incidents a day.

Co-op campaign and public affairs director Paul Gerrard told The Grocer he was shocked by the “brazenness and scale” of the crimes committed, particularly with the amount of stock stolen at a time, rising up to £500. 

“The crimes shopworkers were reporting weren’t normal theft, like a ham sandwich or a couple bottles of wine,” said Gerrard. “One of our stores had a kiosk that was jumped 50 times in the past six months. At one point a colleague passed out because they were so scared.”

The society said another London store had been “looted” three times in one day. The majority of incidents were being carried out by repeat offenders and even organised crime gangs, the Co-op suggested.

Co-op said frontline store workers had seen physical assaults increase year on year by 30%, while antisocial behaviour and verbal abuse rose by 20%.

A new law that made attacking a shopworker an aggravated offence came into force last summer. Retailers and trade bodies, who had long lobbied against the rising tide of retail crime, welcomed its implementation in the hope it would deter criminals.

However, despite efforts by Co-op colleagues to increase their levels of reporting crime by almost 50%, a Freedom of Information request by Co-op showed police failed to respond 71% of the time.

”The aggravated offence law in England and Wales was a step forward, but unless the police turn up or take action on evidence, there’s no point in it,” Gerrard added.

“In my opinion, the problem stems from a lack of priority among police. There was an armed robbery that took place in one of our stores in London, the staff rang 999, but they were told by the operator to ring 101 instead. That’s because it’s considered a non-emergency event.”

Some police forces, however, including Nottinghamshire, have been working closely with the Co-op and helping to tackle persistent offenders. This year, the police force arrested 17 prolific offenders who were sentenced to a combined six years of custody. A further 13 repeat offenders were given a Criminal Behaviour Order or rehabilitation.

With the latest Association of Convenience Stores Crime Report showing 63% of shoplifting is carried out by repeat offenders, the convenience retailer is calling on all police forces and crime commissioners to target prolific offenders and local organised criminal gangs to protect local shops and communities. 

Co-op Food MD Matt Hood said: “We know retail crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders, and organised criminal gangs. It is an ongoing challenge for all retailers, and in the worst instances can even be described as ‘looting’.

“I see first-hand how this criminal behaviour also erodes the very fabric of our communities – it’s hard to over-emphasise how important urgent change is.”

Co-op has taken action by investing more than £200m in recent years in colleague and community safety, including interactive and remote-monitored CCTV, body-worn cameras and communication headsets for frontline colleagues.

Hood added: “Co-op has invested significantly in keeping colleagues and stores safe, but we need the police to play their part. Too often, forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams, and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences.”

Association of Convenience Stores CEO James Lowman added: “Our members are at the sharp end, seeing crime in their communities get steadily worse. Shop theft is rising because repeat offenders and organised criminals are targeting local shops to steal goods to resell.

“This organised criminal activity exploits vulnerable people by getting them to steal to order in exchange for their next fix, funds the illegal drug trade, and harms businesses that provide essential services to communities.

“The police have to face up to theft, violence and antisocial behaviour in and around local shops. Cracking down on the criminals who account for the majority of this crime against our members would be the most effective way to make our communities safer.”