The Co-op Group has welcomed a national action plan by police to tackle the epidemic of retail crime.
Commissioned by policing minister Chris Philp, the plan includes a police commitment to prioritise urgent attendance at the scene of shoplifting involving violence against a shop worker; where security guards have detained an offender; or where attendance is needed to secure evidence.
Police attendance will be assessed based on risk, and prolific or juvenile offenders will be treated with elevated priority.
A specialist police team is also being created to build a comprehensive intelligence picture of the organised crime gangs that fuel many shoplifting incidents across the country, to help target and dismantle them.
The initiative, dubbed Pegasus, is a business and policing partnership that aims to improve the way retailers share intelligence with police, to better understand the tactics used by organised retail crime gangs and identify more offenders. This will include development of a new information sharing platform and training for retailers.
Spearheaded by Katy Bourne, the business crime lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), Pegasus is the first national partnership of its kind, and is backed by the Home Office, and a group of retailers including the Group, John Lewis, M&S, Boots, Primark, who have collectively pledged to provide over £600,000 to get the initiative off the ground.
The announcement follows a long campaign by the retail industry – including the Group and its fellow consumer co-ops – for tougher police action against worsening retail crime.
The police have come under fire for failing to act on the crisis. In the 12 months to March, the British Retail Consortium estimates there were eight million crimes, costing the sector £1bn – but the police recorded only 339,206 cases of shoplifting, and only 48,218 charges were filed.
Store thefts rose by 25% in the year to June, according to recent police data for England and Wales.
The Group has turned to its regular security contractor Mitie to provide undercover security guards – trained to confront and hold thieves until police arrive – in its stores.
And Sharon White, chair of the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose, this week told the Policy Exchange think tank: “It feels in the last year we have moved from ‘I’m going to put an extra six eggs in my basket, I haven’t paid for them but actually my family’s struggling’ to organised gangs shoplifting to order in a way that I have found profoundly shocking.
“I was in a store a few weeks ago and they spoke about a gang coming into the store and they were after a particular brand of gin, and we were sold out … They said: ‘Don’t worry we will be back on Monday because we know you’re going to be replenished over the weekend.'”
Lobbying by the retail sector has already produced changes in the law to offer specific protection to store workers and it is hoped the latest announcement marks another turning point.
Paul Gerrard, campaigns and public affairs director at the Group, said: “The Co-op has long called for greater police prioritisation so they tackle the rampant rise in retail crime especially those involving violence or prolific offenders; this is now what happens at present as our colleagues see every day.
“We, therefore, welcome the commitments in the Retail Crime Action Plan to attend incidents of violence, incidents where offenders have been detained and ensure all evidence is collected so every reasonable line of enquiry can be followed.
“Alongside Operation Pegasus, which the Co-op is helping to fund, we are hopeful that this will mark the point at which the police will provide the support to protect shopworkers and shops so they can help the communities they serve thrive.
“The Co-op stands ready to work with every police force to ensure our colleagues and the shops they work in can continue to serve their communities.”
He told Co-op News: “Since we started this in the end of July, we’ve been saying the police need to attend more. Fundamentally, the police don’t attend when certain Co-op Group stores in city centre locations report incidents. They don’t attend in 78% of cases where our specialist guiding teams have detained individuals.”
He says it is important that police attend, especially where violence is evolved or when “prolific and persistent offenders or youth offenders have been detained, and to attend where there is evidence to be collected”.
What will make the difference really quickly, Gerrard adds, if the police stick to that plan and begin to attend incidents more often. This, he says, will end the situation where thieves see no risk of legal action because they know “the police aren’t going to turn up”.
The Group’s leading role in pushing for tougher action was acknowledged by the Grocer magazine this week, which said: “The turning point seemed to be figures released in July by the Co-op showing how criminal acts had jumped 35% since the start of the year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded – amounting to almost 1,000 a day. The society said at the time there was more evidence that the crime sprees were being driven by repeat offenders and organised crime gangs, with the amount of stock stolen at a time hitting up to £500.“
Gerrard said that the other retail co-ops have also played an important role, noting that Central and Midcounties have engaged with a range of stakeholders, talking to police and crime commissioners, MPs and shadow ministers. “There has undoubtedly been a good bit of movement-wide support on that particular front.”