Police have backed a program that will spare shoplifters amid the cost-of-living crisis.
A tesco The West Derby, Liverpool store, which is losing £50,000 a month to thieves, will be the first to start the pilot amid the rebound inflation and there are hopes it could be rolled out nationwide.
Those caught red-handed stealing essential goods, such as food, are not arrested by the police.
Instead, according to Tesco security staff, they are referred to local boards and debt advice centers the mirror.
The head of a police watchdog just a few months ago told officers to use it its “discretionary power” in deciding whether to prosecute shoplifters amid a rising number of thefts earlier this year.
Suggestions not to act on theft have previously drawn a hostile response from the retail industry, which has described it as “irresponsible”.
A Tesco store in West Derby, Livepool, which is losing £50,000 a month to thieves will be the first to launch the pilot scheme to ease shoplifters (stock image)
Labor MP Ian Byrne, who is behind the Tesco idea, told the Mirror it doesn’t give people carte blanche to shoplifting and wants it to be rolled out across the country.
He said: “This kind of theft is an act of desperation. We have many mothers and fathers who would never have considered shoplifting. What I want is to stop the criminalization of the working class.”
Merseyside Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell also told the Mirror: “No one in our society should have to steal to eat or care for children.
“This is a damning indictment of the legacy of this government. Our focus is always on crime prevention. We are already working with the retail industry and community safety partners to ensure support is available to vulnerable people.
“West Derby Tesco will train guards and staff to recognize signs of desperate theft and respond accordingly. Signs will be placed around the store with information on support services.’
Those caught red-handed stealing essential goods, such as food, are not arrested by the police. Instead, they are passed on to local food banks and debt advice services by Tesco security guards (stock image).
Andy Cooke, the chief of the new police station, suggested in May that officers should consider whether it was best to take thieves to court for food.
Mr Cooke, a former Merseyside Police Commissioner who took over as Head of Her Majesty’s Police Inspectorate in April, said: “The impact of poverty and the impact of lack of opportunity for people is leading to an increase in crime.”
He told The Guardian that armed forces across England and Wales are adept at dealing with the tensions and dynamics of their communities, adding: “You have to consider what is best for the community and these individuals as they deal with these deal with problems. And I certainly fully support police officers in exercising discretion – and they need to exercise discretion more often.’
Economic downturns in the past have led to an increase in crimes such as theft. Mr Cooke added. “That’s one of the great things about being a cop,” he said. “You are allowed to make your own decisions on all of these issues. This is nothing new.”
His comments align with Donna Jones leading up to serious violence and casualties for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
She proposed last year that stubborn shoplifters should be spared jail and floated the idea that retailers could pay to rehabilitate drug offenders who steal to satisfy their addiction.
The Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary also said in May that officers should use their “discretionary powers” when deciding whether to prosecute shoplifters amid the crisis that unleashed retail advice (stock image).
But Tom Ironside of the British Retail Consortium dismissed the idea, saying: “It is irresponsible to say that shoplifting should not be treated seriously. When confronted with shoplifting, it often results in violence and abuse against retail workers, many of whom are women, and costs retailers £2.5 billion a year, which includes the cost of the actual theft and security measures.’
He said last September: “The law enforcement response is already poor, with only 6 per cent of the 455 daily incidents of violence and abuse being brought to justice.”
The Grocer magazine also said in May that retailers had told them theft rates were “off the charts so far” this year.
The magazine said: “Store managers have reported to The Grocer higher crime rates as they spot ‘new first-time shoplifters’ as opposed to ‘the usual suspects’.
Professional shoplifters typically target high-value goods they can resell, like alcohol, razors and other items, but a new generation is stealing even the cheapest items from shelves, The Grocer said.
It added: “One store manager reported that shoplifting is increasing on everyday and low-value items you would find in your weekly shopping cart, as opposed to the more regularly targeted high-priced luxury items.”
Shopfloor Insights retail analyst Bryan Roberts said “the situation is definitely getting worse” and said the crime rate was “off the charts”.
Police officers were advised to think carefully about whether shoplifters would be prosecuted for stealing food
Some stores have reintroduced the entry and exit points that existed during Covid to help customers social distance, but they are now there to make it easier to keep track of who is going in and out.
Others have increased security in terms of staff and/or surveillance cameras.
A store manager told The Grocer: “The other day we stopped a pensioner who was trying to steal things like washing powder and shampoo. Given the cost of living, people need to start making choices.’
dr Sinéad Furey, an expert on food poverty and a lecturer at Ulster University, said it was “not a new phenomenon”.
She said: “We have seen this in previous periods of austerity or economic downturns.
“The return of ‘stealing to eat’ rather than ‘being able to afford’ is further evidence that we need effective policy solutions that provide people with enough income, in a dignified manner, to avoid poverty and crime comes mainstream funds to secure the most basic livelihoods.’