It's an unprecedented reaction to a shocking series of events. But one thing about it frustrates me. Retailers are the victims of crime every hour of every day. Why does it take an extreme televised event such as the recent disturbances before the courts and the government gets serious? What if we dealt with all shoplifters in this way?
The question is relevant because looting is essentially an extreme form of shoplifting. Only the context is different. Mixed in with the anarchists, arsonists, career criminals and opportunists in the rampaging mobs witnessed over the past week were several thousand idiot schoolkids who thought it would be great fun to smash up town centres and steal stuff, and that there would be no consequences to their actions.
Like everyone else I was horrified and astonished by the riots, but some of the behaviour on display isn't unprecedented. I know of retailers who have been the victims of 'steaming'-type theft whereby a large group usually schoolkids descends on a store and clears the shelves of sweets.
Kids nicking sweets from a shop has, up to now, been a low priority for police, but the important fact to acknowledge is that the thrill of getting away with it is just as important a driver of the children's behaviour as what they end up with crammed into their pockets. So the approach has to change.
Retailers work too hard for each pound earned to let a bunch of hooligans just walk off with the stock, and I wasn't surprised to hear cases of independent retailers confronting the mob to protect their staff and their property, despite the huge risks involved. But confrontations can turn ugly quickly, and in recent years store owners have been traumatised, injured, even killed, defending their property. There was an ugly echo of this in the recent riots as widespread looting and criminal damage quickly turned into arson and murder.
We need a new culture. From now on, nobody should get away with anything. If we catch a shoplifter, we want the police to show up, and we want that person to be in front of a judge every time. And if stores are robbed or vandalised, then we want the CCTV footage to be looked at and the culprits identified, whether there was a full-scale riot taking place or not. Otherwise it could all happen again, or even get worse. So I hope that the government, the police and the courts learn the right lessons from these recent events. We need retail crime to be taken seriously, by everybody, all the time.