When an ex-policeman/CID investigator of shop crime, now c-store boss, emails you to say that the independent sector is going to pot if certain authorities don’t pull their fingers out, you tend to sit up and take notice.
The good news is that Steve Edwards spent 22 years as a policeman in uniform and another eight years with a CID unit specialising in shop and petty crime. No one is better placed than him to know both sides of the story. The bad news is that this unit was disbanded in April: cutbacks. Steve retired.
In the background is the fact that his Lifestyle store in Cleethorpes has been in the family for 35 years, founded by his father. While Steve was policing, his wife ran the store.
His initial email was full of rage. “So surprise, surprise, shoplifting has increased this year by about 18% and is costing industry £600m-plus a year (I would suggest that it is far greater as a lot of retailers do not report a lot of crime now).”
He adds: “The policy of the police and the various operational names they give to abandoning retail businesses to their own devices (operation ‘Sod ‘em’, sorry ‘Sodium’ in our area; other areas call it by different names but the effect is the same), is a failure and does not work for the victims of crime. It makes it worse.”
Steve says that the police now advise challenging shoplifters but, as he points out, shop staff have not had the conflict management training that the police have. “In fact, the advice we are given by our Police Commissioner is to talk to these people and retrieve the property and ask the person to leave the shop. Nice in theory, but when one of my girls tried this she was thrown against one of the displays and covered in broken glass.”
It’s obviously a lose-lose situation.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Steve has become something of a celeb in what must be a most unusual both-sides-of-the-fence position. He is now the BBC’s go-to guy for quotes when shop crime is on the agenda.
And it isn’t ‘just’ crime that concerns Steve. “The threat to small convenience store owners is now so great that I for one am worried. Shop theft, staff theft, minimum wage, living wage, pension contributions, tobacco, Aldi, Lidl and so on. No wonder our children don’t want to carry on our businesses!”
The Conservative Party was always meant to be the one in favour of the small entrepreneur and we discussed this, too. Steve, who voted Conservative, now suspects an agenda. Never mind about foisting all this cost onto the independent. Let big business take over. “Much easier to control.”
Steve, who said his motivation in getting this reported was “survival”, added: “We’ve got five years to sort this out – or we won’t be here.”
He has simple advice. Report all crime, no matter how small. Otherwise the authorities will have the proof that they were right to cut back on crime cover.