Co-op outlines ten-point plan to tackle record levels of retail theft and violence

The Co-op has unveiled a ten-point plan to tackle the “alarming increase” in retail crime following a record number of violent incidents against its staff.

Feb 9, 2024
By Paul Jacques
Picture: BRC

The convenience retailer wants attacking a shop worker to be made a stand-alone offence under an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to help “turn the tide on prolific offenders”.

Last year, the Co-op recorded more than 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour – equating to almost 1,000 incidents every day across its 2,400 stores.

Physical assaults alone saw an increase of more than a third to 1,325 incidents – that is three or four store workers attacked or assaulted every day said the Co-op.

More than 40,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour and abuse were recorded, an increase of 37 per cent.

This is despite the Co-op introducing more than £200 million of preventative measures over recent years to make its stores and communities safer, including interactive CCTV and body-worn cameras, and undercover (covert) guards. In 2023, Co-op covert guards detained 3,361 criminals.

With unchecked crime reaching record levels, a new report launched this week – commissioned by the Co-op, and written by Professor of Criminology at City, University of London, Emmeline Taylor – sets out a ten point plan focused on turning the tide on prolific offenders and building on advancements to address “the alarming increase in crime, violence, intimidation and abuse that continues to beset the retail sector, blight communities and wreak physical and mental harm on store workers”.

As well as recognising assaults against shop workers as a separate offence, the report – Stealing with Impunity: the policing of prolific local offenders and the impact on our shops and communities – also wants police and crime commissioners to commit to developing a strategy to tackle prolific retail crime in their Police and Crime Plans.

In addition, it recommends:

  • A review of the Retail Crime Action Plan to include measurable key performance indicators (KPIs);
  • The introduction of a ‘retail flag’ to identify in the Police National Database and criminal justice case management systems when a crime has taken place in a retail setting; and
  • Police campaigns to target the “extensive” stolen goods market, with items being offered for sale on increasingly popular online community marketplaces.

The Co-op says it has seen “green shoots of improvement” in police response rates since the launch of the Retail Crime Action Plan – yet two-in-five criminals detained by trained security guards still walk away with police failing to attend, it said.

The Co-op has repeatedly highlighted that where clear cooperation with police forces exist, and there is commitment and leadership, retail crime is a solvable issue.

The Co-op has partnerships with a number of forces, such as Nottinghamshire, Essex and Sussex, which, in the past 12 months, removed and managed 110 prolific offenders, with a combined 30 years of custodial sentences and a further 60 years’ worth of Criminal Behaviour Orders given. Also 16 offenders received some form of rehabilitation order.

With an estimated 70 per cent of shop theft committed by frequent users of Class A drugs who are stealing to fund a drug addiction, the crimes they commit become more volatile, desperate, and potentially violent, the report warns.

It adds: “These repeat offenders steal persistently, at volume, and the report suggests that effectively tackling this group of repeat offenders will have a large impact on reducing retail crime, and its pervasive impact on society.

“In addition to the impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of retail workers, societal impacts of career criminals include: proceeds of retail theft fuelling the drugs and other, illicit, trades; contributing to the criminal exploitation of vulnerable adults and children; destroying the high street and creating ‘food deserts’; blighting communities and, limiting employment opportunities.”

The Co-op urging MPs to back an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which is soon to be debated in Parliament, that would give shopworkers the legal protection they deserve.

Matt Hood, managing director Co-op Food, said: “We are seeing far too many prolific offenders persistently steal large volumes of products, in our shops every day, and, if they are stealing to fund addictions, the situation often becomes volatile and dangerous.

“Crime is an occupation for some – it is not petty crime, and it is not victimless. It is imperative MPs don’t turn their backs on shopworkers, and vote through the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to give my colleagues the protection they deserve.

“Taking on board Professor Taylor’s recommendations, with a collaborative approach between the retail industry, the police, and the Government, will send out a loud and clear message to all those who commit brazen and violent acts of theft that time is now up on their criminal ways.”

Professor Taylor added: “Retail crime not only impacts on a business’s ability to operate safely and profitably but as my report demonstrates it also causes serious harm to shop workers, both physically and mentally, and to communities that are blighted by persistent offending.

“The police in England and Wales have lost grip on the scale and severity of acquisitive crime, and, in turn, retailers have lost confidence in them and the wider criminal justice system.

“My report sets out ten actionable recommendations to turn the tide on the current tsunami of shop theft. By taking decisive action to tackle high-volume, high-impact retail crime, the police and retail industry can work together to create safer communities in which to live, work and shop.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary says retail crime is not victimless and has long been a “major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers”.

“Having to deal with repeated and persistent offenders can cause anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers,” he said.

“It was deeply disappointing that the Government have no measures in their legislative programme to tackle high levels of retail crime and safeguard shopworkers. Labour is seeking to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to strengthen the law to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse.

“We urge Tory MPs and ministers to end their long-held opposition to a protection of shopworkers law, which has already exists in Scotland and has led to over 500 convictions.”

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