Take shop theft seriously

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Over the Christmas period, we spent some time talking in the media about changes to the way the police, the courts and government respond to shop theft. There are a couple of separate issues at play here - first, different police forces are setting policies about how they prioritise their time and resource, with some not responding to shop theft below a certain threshold, for example £100. In reality, shop theft hasn’t prompted the arrival of several police officers and flashing blue lights for some time (if ever), but the public statement of these policies sticks in the throats of those of us who want to make sure shop theft is always seen as a crime with real victims.

The second and related issue exacerbates this problem. Shop thieves taking less than £200 worth of goods are now usually dealt with through an out-of-court disposal, which often means a ticket and an £80 fine. This in itself is a problem: there’s no deterrent against shop theft if the punishment is less than the incentive. However, the real problem is that some police forces often aren’t following the correct process for issuing these notices. 

The guidance on out-of-court disposals for shop theft is very clear: repeat offenders, those with drug or alcohol problems, and any offence where there was violence used, are not appropriate for a fixed penalty notice. Yet this form of penalty is being used for people in all of these categories. What’s more, according to the last government analysis, about half of fixed penalty notices weren’t even paid, and updated analysis hasn’t been forthcoming which makes one sceptical as to whether this record has improved. There may be a place for out-of-court disposals to tackle some incidents of shop theft, but the system as it’s currently being implemented is not effective by any measure.

The solutions here are complex, and sit with government, police forces, PCCs, the courts, and businesses themselves. One thing however is very simple: shop theft is a crime and should be treated as such.

Readers' comments (2)

  • The very real concern is that not only are smash and grab crimes on the increase against convenience stores, but now that the threshold before court prosecution is £200.00 in many areas, the empowerment is on the criminals side. Accurate training and empowerment of staff is more important than ever, as police and associated resources continue to decrease.

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  • James’s comments on theft are, as always spot on. My observation is that this area has been on a slippery slope for many years. When I was Trading Director at Spar I recall a conference in the late 90’s where a senior, then retired, Policeman presented on the subject- and his message then, nearly 20 years ago, was that the police had increasingly little time to deal with “minor incidents” and the sector just had to get used to it. Fast forward to 15 years ago when I had a licensed Costcutter store and low level theft was an ongoing problem. At one point the local police had 17 videos of mine in their possession - all showing theft taking place. After a couple of months I went to the police station and was handed them back with a note that said that they couldn’t take any action unless I could provide them with the names and addresses of the thieves! At that point I basically gave up on the police regarding this particular crime.

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