A plan that will be lenient on shoplifters amid the growing cost of living crisis has police backing.
In response to soaring inflation, a Tesco store in West Derby, Liverpool, which is losing £50,000 a month to thieves, will be the first to introduce the testing scheme. It is hoped that it will eventually be implemented nationwide.
The police will not detain anyone who has been caught consuming basic necessities like food.
Instead, Tesco security staff will direct them to nearby food banks and financial advice organisations, according to the Mirror.
In light of the recent spike in thefts, the director of a police watchdog recently advised officers to exercise “discretion” in deciding whether to file charges against shoplifters.
The retail sector has already reacted angrily to suggestions not to report the theft, calling them “irresponsible”.
Promoter of the Tesco idea and Labor MP Ian Byrne told the Mirror he wants it to be implemented nationally and does not give people ‘carte blanche’ to fly at the display.
“This kind of theft is an act of desperation,” he said. Many of our parents would never have thought about shoplifting. Stopping the criminalization of the working classes is what I seek.
No one in our society should have to steal to eat or support their family, according to Merseyside Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell, who also spoke to the Mirror.
“It’s a terrible indictment of the legacy of this government.” Our first priority is to constantly reduce crime. To ensure vulnerable people receive support, we are already working with retail and community safety partners.
“West Derby Tesco will train guards and staff to recognize the symptoms of desperate theft and respond appropriately. There will be posters around the store with information about support services.
In May, Andy Cooke, the chairman of the new police watchdog, advised officers to consider whether it was best to bring food robbers to court.
The chairman of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Mr Cooke, a former Merseyside Chief Constable, said: ‘The impact of poverty and the impact of the lack of opportunity for people is contributing to a increased crime.”
When addressing community tensions and dynamics, he told the Guardian that police forces in England and Wales were adept at handling them.
He continued, “What they need to have in mind is what’s the best thing for the community and that individual, in how they deal with these issues.”
And I certainly totally support the police who exercise discretion; in fact, they should do it more frequently.
Thefts and other crimes have increased during previous economic downturns. Cooke also added. He remarked, “That’s one of the best things about being a police officer.” You are free to choose your own course of action with respect to all of these matters. It’s nothing new.
He echoes remarks by Donna Jones, who oversees the work of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners on serious violence and victims.
She advocated for persistent shoplifters to avoid incarceration last year and floated the idea that shopkeepers could foot the bill for drug-using offenders who shoplift to support their habit.
It is foolish to suggest that shoplifting should not be taken seriously, according to Tom Ironside of the British Retail Consortium, who dismissed the idea.
Shoplifting costs shopkeepers £2.5billion a year, which includes the cost of the actual crime as well as security measures. When confronted, it often leads to violence and abuse towards retail staff, many of whom are women.
“The law enforcement response is already weak, with only 6% of the 455 daily cases of assault and abuse brought to justice,” he said in September.
Retailers told The Grocer, a trade publication, that theft rates are “off the charts so far this year,” the publication said in May.
According to the magazine, store managers have reported higher crime rates because they see “new shoplifters for the first time” rather than “the typical suspects”.
Professional shoplifters often target big-ticket items like liquor, razors and other items they can resell, but a new breed is stealing even the cheapest products from shelves, according to The Grocer.
Unlike the more frequently targeted high-priced luxury items, he continues, “A store manager noticed that theft was starting to spike on regular, low-value items “that you would see in your weekly cart.”
The crime rate is “off the charts”, according to retail analyst Bryan Roberts of Shopfloor Insights, who also said the problem was undeniably getting worse.
Some businesses have brought back the one-way entry and exit ports that were there during the Covid times to help socially isolate customers, but are now there to simplify entry and exit screening.
Others have increased security by adding staff and/or CCTV cameras.
A store manager told The Grocer: “We arrested an elderly person the other day who was trying to steal products like shampoo and laundry detergent. People will have to start making decisions because of the cost of living.
Dr Sinéad Furey, a senior lecturer at Ulster University and an expert on food insecurity, said it was ‘not a new problem’.
“We have seen this before in past periods of austerity or economic crisis,” she said.
“The resurgence of ‘stealing to eat’ instead of being able to ‘afford to eat’ is further evidence that we need effective policy solutions that put enough money into people’s hands in respectable ways so that poverty and recourse to crime do not become common means of guaranteeing the most basic necessities of life,” writes the author.