Retail crime surges

The number of thefts from shops rose by a third in a single year, with an incident occurring nearly every minute, 24 hours a day, according to the British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey 2009.

For the first time the BRC survey has assessed the proportion of retail crimes that are not reported to the police. Data from retailers indicates two thirds of customer thefts are not reported – suggesting the actual number of shoplifting incidents was over one million.

The survey also shows retail crime of all types cost UK shops £1.1billion in 2008/09 – a 10 per cent increase on the previous year and equivalent to 72,000 retail jobs.

Stealing by customers accounts for the biggest share of all retail crime, both by the number of incidents (94 per cent) and by monetary value (42 per cent).

The BRC Crime Survey showed incidents of violence and abuse against shop staff doubled compared with the previous year. Physical violence rose 58 per cent, verbal abuse by 37 per cent and at least 22,000 retail employees suffered threats, or physical or verbal attacks.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium director general, says: “The increase in retail crime during the recession can’t be justified as a move from ‘greed’ to ‘need’. Whatever the motivation, shoplifting is never victimless or acceptable. The cash costs are met by honest customers who end up paying more, and the human costs by shop staff who intervene.

“It’s shocking that a shop theft happens almost every minute, 24 hours a day. We need tougher sentencing to deter thieves and more consistent use of fixed penalty notices between police forces. Too many fines for shoplifting remain unpaid. We need more effective enforcement so they aren’t devalued as a deterrent.”

The police and criminal justice system must take retail theft more seriously, says Robertson: “There’s been some progress but, with a fifth of retailers saying they don’t report crime because they have no confidence in the police and two thirds of shop thefts going unreported, not enough.”

“The doubling in violence and abuse against retail staff is the biggest concern of all. It should never be regarded as ‘part of the job’. Punishments must be strong enough to deter and the police should measure workplace violence when they assess business crime in the community and determine local policing priorities.”

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