The government and the police force are at odds following a letter from the Home Secretary pledging to investigate every crime, including shoplifting.
A letter from Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire Chris Philp to Chief Constables, Police & Crime Commissioners, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners, warned that public confidence in the police is being undermined due to a perceived lack of action on crimes.
Braverman called on police forces to pursue all leads in crimes and that no crime investigations will now be screened out solely on the basis that they are perceived as “minor”.
One of the areas highlighted by Braverman and Philp was the issue of shoplifting, warning that if left unchecked, “it escalates, shop workers often get assaulted, there are significant financial losses and disorder escalates”.
The letter cited the British Retail Consortium 2023 Crime Report which revealed that between April 2021 and March 2022, there were 867 incidents of violence and abuse towards retail workers per day; and £953m was lost to customer theft, with just under eight million incidents.
The importance of collaboration was highlighted in the letter. “We are sure you will agree on the importance of officers following every reasonable line of enquiry in cases of shoplifting, including using CCTV to identify suspects, and using clear images of any unknown suspects of crime to search the Police National Database for matches using facial recognition when appropriate. Best practice comes where retailers and police work together through local Business Crime Reduction Partnerships to share information and target the most prolific offenders.”
In response to the letter, Gavin Stephens, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council outlined how stretched resources are among the forces and that more support is needed to tackle these issues.
“Growing demand as well as the increasing and changing nature of crime means consistency across forces varies and approximately 21 of 43 forces still have less officers than in 2010. It is therefore right that Police Chiefs have operational independence and are responsible for making difficult decisions around how best to respond to the breadth of priorities of local communities,” he said. “Policing has rightly been under scrutiny in recent years and we welcome continued scrutiny from Government, Police and Crime Commissioners, and our communities.”
He added that officers are having to do more work that are taking them away from the frontline.
“There is significant pressure on vital police staff jobs with over 4,000 vacancies across England and Wales. Police staff play a key role in protecting people and fighting crime, providing a huge range of services and specialist knowledge in support of officers, especially in making best use of new technologies to fight crime. They are vital to an effective police service but some of these roles are being backfilled by officers, taking them away from the frontline, and reducing visibility.
“To see trust in police return to where it used to be, an effectively staffed and properly funded police service is essential. To help achieve this it is vital we continue to work with Government to retain and develop the new officers recruited, and to put in place a long-term workforce plan that includes essential and specialist police staff.”
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman agreed that more needs to be done to address the issue of retail crime.
“We welcome the Home Secretary’s comments on the importance of investigating crimes like shop theft. The majority of thefts against convenience stores are committed by repeat offenders with either addiction problems or ties to criminal gangs, so setting an expectation for all thefts to be investigated will mean that the police can establish better links between large numbers of incidents that could be being committed by just one or two offenders. We have called on local forces to set up Most Wanted lists in partnership with retailers to further aid the process of gathering evidence against prolific offenders and ultimately getting them off the streets and out of the cycle of reoffending.”