Over the past week we saw two releases of statistics on shop theft, both looking at the number of thefts reported to police. One (published by the ONS) suggested a small decline in theft, while the other (figures obtained by the Press Association for supermarkets only) showed a rise. So what’s going on here?
The first thing to clarify is that the amount of reported crime doesn’t necessarily relate to the amount of crime that is taking place. We estimate that less than half of the almost one million incidents of shop theft that took place in the sector last year were reported to police, and I suspect that far fewer than that were investigated properly.
Retailers tell us that far from falling or being a big store problem, theft is not only getting worse, it’s also feeding more serious crime and becoming more organised as groups of criminals are stealing to sell products on. Theft doesn’t exist in a bubble – the people stealing could be funding a drug or alcohol addiction, stealing as part of a criminal gang, or starting with shop theft, realising that there’s often no repercussion, and getting more confident about committing serious crime.
Our view on this remains clear – theft is a crime and should be taken seriously by police at local level, by Police and Crime Commissioners and by government. If retailers stop reporting crimes when they take place there’s a danger that forces will see theft as even less of a priority over time when drawing up their future plans. I know it’s a frustrating process trying to get through to the police to report thefts, but only by reporting every time can we ensure that the police know the true extent of thefts committed against our sector.
It’s also worth saying that for retailers and their staff who see incidents occurring in their store and feel like they should be doing something, remember – people are more important than property. We don’t ever recommend intervening to stop a thief, because that is when violence can occur. We do have a video available online for retailers which talks through some of the ways that you can de-escalate difficult situations, just search for ‘managing violence and abuse’ on YouTube.