Shoplifting on the rise in the UK and workers face terrifying situations | ET REALITY


Packing six bottles of wine in a bag, a man dressed in a dark jacket and beanie heads straight to the store exit without paying, interrupted by a store employee who blocks his way and only stops when his colleague overpowers him right outside the door.

For supermarket owner Richard Inglis, the early morning altercation, captured on CCTV, was the first robbery attempt of the day, but it probably wouldn’t be the last.

“I’ll probably eat another three or four today,” Mr Inglis said, adding that, while trying to stop the thieves, he and members of his staff had been punched, kicked, bitten, spit on, threatened with needles, abused. ​racially and attacked with bottles. “It’s like the Wild West right now.”

Britain is seeing a rise in shoplifting by what it says are opportunistic thieves, marauding teenagers, people stealing to finance drug use and organized gangs trying to loot.

According to official figures, theft incidents recorded by police increased by 25 percent in the year ending June 2023.and Co-op, a British supermarket chain with around 2,400 stores, recorded their highest levels of theft and aggressive behaviour, with almost 1,000 incidents each day in the six months to June 2023, a 35 per cent increase on the previous year. last year. One of its stores was “looted” three times in one day, it said in a press release.

Some statistical comparisons reflect increases after the pandemic, when crime rates fell, but a survey carried out by the British Retail Consortium, a trade body, concluded that incidents including racial and sexual abuse, physical assault and threats with weapons rose from the pre-Covid high of more than 450 a day in 2019-20, to more than 850 a day in 2021-22. Theft has surpassed pre-Covid levels – around eight million thefts cost retailers almost £1bn, it added.

In the face of growing evidence of the cost of theft, the government announced a plan this week to tackle shoplifting in partnership with retailers, who have become increasingly vocal.

The chairman of the Asda supermarket chain, Stuart Rose, said shoplifting had effectively been “decriminalised” due to a lack of enforcement by the police. James Lowman, chief executive of the Convenience Store Association, which represents smaller retailers, said: “Repeat offenders and organized criminals are targeting local stores to steal products for resale.”

The crime wave has developed as Britain’s sluggish economy suffers from rampant inflation. Police statistics do not address the motives of thieves, but the rise in robberies has sparked debate among academics about the root causes: are they to be found in poverty and rising food prices, in a lack of fighting against drugs, homelessness and other social ills, or in a decline? In behavior toward store workers dating back to the pandemic? Some supermarket managers I think the theft has been legitimized in the minds of some by accusations that supermarkets have profited from rising food prices. Others think self-service checkouts offer too much temptation to shoplift.

“I would say there is a perfect storm of different issues that have now coalesced to a point where the level of shoplifting we are seeing is astronomical,” said Emmeline Taylor, professor of criminology at City University of London. . “It’s an epidemic. We used to think that a robbery happened daily, maybe weekly; “This happens every minute of every day in downtown stores.”

Professor Taylor said years of cuts to drug rehabilitation projects, mental health support and other programs had left supermarkets on the frontline of a growing social crisis, with inadequate support from authorities.

“Overwhelmingly, the police are unresponsive and have allowed this to escalate to the point where, I would say, theft has been decriminalized,” he said.

In a statement, Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, head of acquisitive crime at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the police “take any incident of violence incredibly seriously and will prioritize our response where there is a risk to people”.

Each department, he said, has its own response model that considers the threat, risk and harm of each call.

“In some cases, there may not be enough information for the police to take action or initiate criminal proceedings,” he said, and for these types of crimes, the police focus on “targeting prolific criminals, organized crime networks and ensuring “effective prevention.” “Measures have been taken.”

This is of limited comfort to Inglis, 44, who says that on a busy day, he and his 33 workers at three Welcome stores (a Southern Co-op franchise) face up to 10 incidents of theft. That morning’s attempted robbery, which would be recorded with police, ended with the culprit walking away, but without the £65, or approximately $79, of wine he had taken.

Tackling shoplifters has limited losses to around £300, or about $365, a week, Inglis said, although it may backfire. When a group of candy-taking teenagers were challenged, one of them broke down a door, leaving a repair bill far greater than the value of the items.

Youth groups can be unpredictable. “Some will almost fight you to the death over a Mars bar,” Inglis said.

Like other stores, its supermarket, located near Southampton train station, has invested in security and has 56 CCTV cameras. Alcohol is stored away from the exit and some other products that are often targeted by thieves, such as laundry detergent, are located near areas where staff members are parked. Only two or three packages of coffee are stored on the shelves at a time to limit what can be stolen in a single attempt.

Like many retailers, Inglis doesn’t believe most shoplifters are reacting to inflation or stealing out of need for food, and sees drug crime as a much bigger factor.

But it does place the origin of the recent increase in theft in the pandemic.

“We definitely feel the frustration of frontline people and that anger,” he said. “I don’t think it’s diminished and I do think there are a certain number of people who have lost their civility.”

In Birmingham, Pak Pharmacy, a smaller retailer, tried a novel tactic to recover stolen goods: displaying CCTV footage of shoplifters on what it called a “wall of shame” inside the store.

“It was very effective,” said Whasuf Farooq, who until recently ran Pak Pharmacy. “All the locals were watching, their parents were telling the adults to come back and pay for the items, some of them were 23 or 24 years old.”

But across Britain, shop workers face risks that few associated with their jobs just a few years ago.

Raja Sani, 41, who works in one of Inglis’ stores in Southampton, said assault and violence was now common and he experienced “a lot of racial abuse from a lot of shoplifters”.

On one occasion a customer threw a milkshake at him. In another, when he was trying to prevent the theft of a bottle of wine, he was bitten on the arm, suffering an injury that required stitches and hospital treatment.

When he returns home, Mr. Sani sometimes feels anxious, fearing that he is being followed by someone who threatened him earlier.

In Bournemouth, also on the south coast of England, a violent incident began almost comically, when Charlene Sweet, a team leader at a Co-op store, saw that a shoplifter had hidden a hot pie in his pants.

When asked to leave the shop, the man drank £6.70 worth of cider and another alcoholic drink and, when Mrs Sweet tried to block his way, she was hit over the head with one of the bottles and left with a bleeding cut several centimeters long.

Since it was attacked in June, the supermarket has hired security guards, but Sweet, 28, has felt anxious challenging the robbers; In one case, she was left shaking and needed to take a break. “I don’t think I realized the impact it was going to have on me,” she said.

This underlines the unpleasant dilemma facing many British shop workers: how far must they go to stop the daily theft of items, sometimes worth just a few pounds?

“I ask myself: Why did I get into this?” Mrs. Sweet said. “What if I had really pissed this guy off? What if he had hit me harder? What if it were a little more unfortunate?

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