The Co-op has detained 3,000 offenders this year using specially trained security guards, yet the police have failed to respond to 76% of the incidents, new data from the retailer shows.
“They intervene with offenders and detain them because they’re skilled enough to do so in a safe way,” said Co-op director of policy and campaigns Paul Gerrard. “It’s effectively a citizen’s arrest, and then they call the police to come.
“However, you can only hold them for a certain amount of time, and there comes a point when it’s clear police aren’t going to come. And if the police aren’t going to come, then you have to let them go. We have no choice.”
He added: “All they have to do is take the individual off our hands, collect whatever evidence is there, such as CCTV and witness claims, take them back to the station and process it.”
Gerrard said letting detainees go was “even worse than detaining them in the first place”.
“Because if you detain them then let them go, they will leave that shop and tell other people that not only did the police not turn up, but even when Co-op’s people detained us, they still don’t turn up.”
He said the low police response rates were leading to a “pressure cooker” environment and putting store workers at risk.
Co-op has been subject to 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse and violence this year, equating to around 1,000 incidents a day across its 2,400 stores and a 43% rise year on year. The figures include over 1,130 physical assaults against store workers, up 35%, and more than 36,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour and abuse, up 39%.
The government last month unveiled a Retail Crime Action Plan, which promised to prioritise attendance at violent shoplifting incidents.
Gerrard said: “We welcomed the Retail Action Crime Plan, but from where we are now to where we want that action plan to get us, there’s a big gap.”
He said there was evidence that retailer and police co-operation could prove effective.
“Nottingham, Sussex, and Essex account for 7% of the police forces in the UK, but they account for 75% of the offenders that have been sanctioned for crimes in the Co-op,” he said. “That’s because they take it seriously, and they’ve got models that work.”
This year, Co-op has more than doubled its partnerships with UK police forces working towards solving retail crime.
Since the Retail Action Crime Plan was announced in October, Gerrard said the Co-op had been approached by Greater Manchester Police and North Wales Police to see how they could work together.
In light of Usdaw’s Respect for Shopworkers Week, which kicks off today, Co-op is hosting over 50 MPs and a number of PCCs in its stores across the UK this week, to highlight the impact of retail crime on staff.
It is also asking its entire workforce, along with its four million members, to sign the Co-operative Party open letter to the home secretary calling for greater action against retail crime.
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “These Co-op findings on police responses are extremely worrying and need to be addressed, because there is an epidemic of shoplifting that too often triggers abuse of shopworkers.
“Our members are not only in fear of being a victim of crime, they are distressed that too few criminals are being caught and punished. That is why we are jointly calling for a protection of workers law, a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a worker serving the public.”