Southern Co-op launches partnership to help prolific shoplifters quit crime

‘Crime needs to be tackled from every angle and hopefully this new approach will mean that offenders can get the help they need’

Southern Co-op has partnered with the local council, police and charities on a new partnership approach to crime crime prevention.

The scheme, being trialled in Portsmouth, offers targeted support to people identified as the most prolific shoplifters and business crime offenders in the area.

The retail society has teamed up with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Portsmouth City Council, Society of St James and Hampshire Police to offer positive intervention.

In this new approach, the post holder, called a navigator, will work with police, probation, the council and the prison service to identify the most prolific shoplifters and business crime offenders; individuals who frequently come to the attention of local businesses for certain offences such as assault, shoplifting, ASB, begging and criminal damage.

The navigator will spend time with those who are at a point in their life where they are receptive to treatment and support to break free from a cycle of offending. They will have access to intensive and targeted intervention to curb their offending behaviour and with the aim to live crime-free lives.

Southern Co-op pitched the idea to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and agreed to fund £35,000 for the project over two years. Portsmouth City Council has provided an additional £32,000 through its Rough Sleeping Initiative grant from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to enable full-time coverage.

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Gareth Lewis, loss prevention and security manager at Southern, said: “We are extremely hopeful that this two year pilot will have a real impact in terms of driving down crimes against all businesses in Portsmouth – not just individual premises.

“The abuse our colleagues face in our stores is unacceptable but they aren’t the only victims here. Crime needs to be tackled from every angle and hopefully this new approach will mean that offenders can get the help they need to break out of a vicious circle of crime.”

The charity Society of St James, which helps vulnerable people experiencing homelessness, problems with alcohol and substance use and other complex needs, has been commissioned to appoint the navigator to carry out the intensive and targeted intervention.

Mike Taylor, operations director for Society of St James, said: “Unfortunately there are many people in our communities who are struggling, and for some this struggle spills over into desperate behaviour and crime, which is often compounded with  addiction and mental health issues. The Society of St James has 50 years experience of working with these individuals, helping them to access support that they need to break this downward cycle.

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“Our new navigator will be a bridge to build a relationship between this targeted group with the excellent support services that are available in the city. This might be help with addiction, housing, poverty or diversion from crime through our therapeutic sports programme or paid work in our social enterprise – Café in the Park. We are very pleased to be part of this initiative and see it as a very positive partnership.”

Cabinet Member for housing and preventing homelessness, Cllr Darren Sanders, said: “People who find themselves rough sleeping or on the brink of homelessness will often resort through desperation to shoplifting. We know people are worried about it and it is great that we will tackle it. The principles Portsmouth has pioneered – building up relationships, frequent engagement – are ideal for freeing people from the cycle of offending. They will help stop crime and I am delighted that Portsmouth is funding this long-overdue scheme.”

Police and crime commissioner Donna Jones said: “Retail workers are often on the front line of abuse, they are in public-facing roles and require more support when it comes to assaults or verbal attacks.

“I know locally that businesses have adopted various crime prevention initiatives to ensure they can protect their buildings, products and each other from burglary, theft and assault, but we need to do more.

“The amendment made to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 earlier in the year means there are now stronger sentences for those found guilty of violence and abuse against retail workers, and this goes someway to getting justice for victims of retail crime. But to bring about long lasting solutions we have to look at ways to break the cycle of offending. We need to focus on the front end of the criminal justice system and look at why these crimes are committed, and ultimately try to change that.

“Retail workers go above and beyond to keep their customers and colleagues safe. As a partnership, we need to do all we can to make their work, and the wider community, a safe place to be.”