“For God’s sakes, Michael, just take me home,” a humiliated young woman shouts at her date, before storming out of a café.

Little does she know the sounds of slurping, crunching and loud burping are the work of the newly graduated police cadet Larvelle ‘Motor Mouth’ Jones, played by Michael Winslow in the 1985 sequel Police Academy 2.

While you’d hope they’d act more professionally, the scene of a bored police officer letting off steam over a hot drink and slice of cake could become a more regular occurrence for John Lewis and Waitrose partners.

The John Lewis Partnership is offering police officers free hot drinks and use of staff canteens as part of wider efforts to tackle rising levels of theft in stores.

The premise is based on deterrence. In the same way that drivers are less likely to speed if they’re being tailed by a police car in lane three, criminals are less likely to steal should they notice one in the car park.

It’s an easy-win solution that’s unsurprisingly grabbed the headlines. But it’s not innovative. Retailers have had similar agreements in place with police forces for decades.

It won’t stop criminals waiting until the police have left

Take Southern Co-op, for example, which in 2007 opened a series of ‘Cop Shop’ drop-in centres as part of efforts to reduce antisocial behaviour. The centres – in Yapton, West Sussex and Eltham, London – were opened in conjunction with local police forces to offer a space for locals to report their concerns to police and parish councillors.

Likewise, Jonathan James, current chairman of the ACS Retail Board and independent store owner, went as far as partnering with Cambridgeshire police to open a police station in his Soham Budgens store in 2008. “A police presence deters youngsters from hanging around,” James, a former policeman, said at the time. It followed a similar move by Asda the previous year, when it opened a police station in the car park of its Bedminster store. 

JLP itself intimated that some of its stores may have already had an agreement with local police in place, noting in its announcement that “many of our branches have already mentioned this informally” to local police forces.

Just because it’s not a new idea, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Encouraging police officers to spend more time in stores is a low-cost and sensible option to tackling rising crime rates in retail.

Of course, on its own it’s no more than a sticking plaster, and far from guaranteed to work all the time. It relies on police officers being near stores and taking up the offer – it also doesn’t stop criminals waiting until they’ve left.

Retailers and staff face spiralling levels of abuse and theft

Which is why JLP has introduced the initiative alongside other more practical deterrents, like increasing the number of security guards and cameras in stores. That’s alongside enhanced training for partners including in how to stop and detain thieves, as well as how to deter would-be larcenists through “love-bombing” – aka customer service.

All of those established behaviours are far more likely to help the retailer reduce theft and protect its staff than the occasional weary policeman popping in for a pot of tea, and that’s unlikely to be lost on partnership execs.

There’s a wider, more significant message, hidden between the lines of JLP’s announcement of the initiative: retailers and staff are facing spiralling levels of abuse and theft, at a time when their margins and the household budgets of their workers are increasingly squeezed.

Some don’t feel that the police, or government, have done enough to tackle the problem.

Figures released by the Co-op in August suggest they have a point. Police had failed to respond to crimes reported by Co-op workers 71% of the time during the first quarter of this year. This was despite a 50% increase in the number of crimes being reported by Co-op staff.

If JLP’s softly-softly approach gets more officers in store, it will be interesting to see if the idea works – and how many retailers follow its lead.