Shoplifting crisis is a 'policing capacity challenge', says Met Commissioner

8 September 2023, 08:40 | Updated: 8 September 2023, 08:50

Shoplifting crisis is a ‘policing capacity challenge’ says Met Commissioner
Shoplifting crisis is a ‘policing capacity challenge’ says Met Commissioner. Picture: LBC/Co-op/Police

By Emma Soteriou

The lack of police response to shoplifting is due to a "capacity challenge", Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has said.

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Speaking during a Call the Commissioner phone-in, Sir Mark Rowley said policing had become too focused on "filling in gaps" meaning responding to real crimes has become harder.

He told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that between 20 and 40 per cent of the Met's demand comes from mental health calls.

"There is a policing capacity challenge here and I’m determined that we can get the capacity to provide a better response to incidents like this," Sir Mark said.

He continued: "At the moment, 20-40% of our demand is responding to mental health calls. Starting to reduce that demand is critical to give my officers the time to deal with criminals.

"The balance of that effort has tipped towards policing being too much filling in gaps around social and welfare services and health services and therefore not having the time to fight crime.

"Whilst we prioritise rapes and stabbings – they will always get the necessary response – that means the less serious crimes like shoplifting sometimes haven’t had the response that I would like them to have.

"I'm determined to sort those resource issues out so we can do a better job."

Addressing fresh approaches to stop criminals, Sir Mark said he was looking at technologies such as live facial recognition.

"Most shops have CCTV so if we can use facial recognition to have more rapid ways of identifying who the offenders are it makes it easier to solve the cases," he said.

"Then we can, with less effort, get through more cases and protect shops."

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Shoplifting crisis is a ‘policing capacity challenge’ says Met Commissioner

It comes after Asda chairman Lord Stuart Rose told LBC shoplifting had effectively become decriminalised.

Tesco's chief executive also said that staff had been offered body worn cameras after physical assaults rose by a third in 12 months.

But Lord Rose said Asda staff would not be offered the same, explaining: "We don’t use [body worn cameras] unilaterally but I don’t really want to get to a world where you sit down and everybody is photographing everybody else for whatever action they take.

"That’s not a good place to be but we do have to be careful about how our staff are exposed to dangers."

Lord Rose Asda chairman discusses body worn cameras and shop theft

Major supermarket and retail chains, including John Lewis and Asda, have been targeted by criminal gangs, with a 26 per cent rise in shoplifting in the last year, according to the British Retail Consortium.

In Co-op stores, shoplifting has reached record levels, with an average of nearly 1,000 incidents each day in the first half of this year - an increase of 35%.

One shop in inner London was looted three times in a single day.

Physical assaults on front-line store workers have risen 30% year-on-year, with anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse rising by a fifth (20%).

Shockingly, police often failed to respond to reports of shoplifting - 71% of serious retail crime callouts were not responded to, the company said.

Read more: No body worn cameras for Asda staff, says Lord Stuart Rose

Supermarket worker: "People come to sweep the whole shelf..."

A rise in the number of shoplifting offences has led to an environment where criminals feel they have "freedom to loot", bosses warned, as they urged the police to do more to help them.

Matt Hood, Co-op Food managing director, said: "We know retail crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders and, organised criminal gangs. It is an ongoing challenge for all retailers, and in the worst instances can even be described as ‘looting’.

"I have seen some horrific incidents of brazen and violent theft in our stores, where my store colleagues feel scared and threatened. I see first-hand how this criminal behaviour also erodes the very fabric of our communities - it’s hard to over-emphasise how important urgent change is."

Mr Hood added: "We need the police to play their part. Too often, forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams, and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences."

Thugs try to break into Co-op store
Thugs try to break into Co-op store. Picture: Co-op/police

The Home Office said while theft is down on pre-pandemic levels, they are increasing funding for retail stores to help them tackle crime.

"Theft is down 20 per cent compared to pre pandemic levels," a spokesperson said.

"However, we recognise the impact that theft can have on retailers which is why we are supporting police by providing funding for crime prevention means.

"The Government's anti-social behaviour action plan, which is backed by £160million of funding will make our communities safer by ensuring perpetrators face swift and visible justice, tougher punishments and introduce early interventions to reduce this behaviour."

Tory Peer's warning on danger of ignoring crimes like shoplifting

Phillip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley and the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Customer Service, said that the police's "patchy" response record was "simply not good enough".

"Our frontline workers deserve far better," he added. "It is no good having stricter laws in place to punish offenders if the police are not properly investigating these crimes and ensure perpetrators are punished.

"Those police forces with the worst record need to find out what those with the best record what they are doing and ensure they bring themselves up to the same standard."

James Lowman, chairman of the Association of Convenience Stores, added: "Our members are at the sharp end, seeing crime in their communities get steadily worse.

"Shop theft is rising because repeat offenders and organised criminals are targeting local shops to steal goods to resell."

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