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How Do We Stop the Cycle of Reoffending?

How Do We Stop the Cycle of Reoffending?

Over the past couple of months we’ve seen a discernible shift in the tone of debate about shop theft and retail crime. Our own crime report, and the Co-op’s research on crime in their business, has provided a powerful evidence base. We’re seeing better engagement from Police & Crime Commissioners and local forces, and crucially we’re now hearing Ministers talking about the seriousness of shop theft and the need for penalties to be consistent with this. There’s also been a lot more interest in the media.

ACS’ Communications Director Chris Noice has been speaking in the broadcast media and with journalists about this topic pretty much constantly, so I’ve asked him for his take on where we are and what needs to happen next…


The Times this morning has reported that the Government is considering putting in place provisions in a new crime and justice bill that would hand out prison sentences to prolific shop theft offenders, signalling that the police and the courts will be taking these offences much more seriously in the future. But will this alone solve the problem?

Every day, convenience store retailers are dealing with a wave of theft in their businesses, typically from people that are well known in the community (and often well known to the police). These people are typically either stealing to fund addiction, or stealing as part of an organised crime operation that targets vulnerable families to sell them higher value goods at knock down prices. Each one of these incidents adds up and for some retailers, the cost of crime can be the difference between a store making money that year or operating at a loss. In total, retailers reported over a million thefts over the last year, equating to an incident every seven seconds somewhere in the UK.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as we know from retailers that over the last year just one in seven incidents have been reported at all. Colleagues in stores that have been rightly trained not to attempt to apprehend or challenge thieves are often left at a loss about what to do at all, as previous reports to the police have led to nothing more than a crime number, and public naming and shaming on local groups or on posters outside the store runs the risk of falling foul of GDPR regulations. So without any action being able to be taken, there’s not much to stop offenders coming back again and again, even more confident each time that nothing will be done.

Low reporting rates have a direct impact on the future ability of police forces to respond to these types of crimes, as when official figures for the number of crimes being reported fall that leads to resources being targeted elsewhere to tackle what is perceived to be a rising crime rate in other areas. It also leads to MPs, who should know better, evangelising about the reduction in crime and ‘record’ police numbers in the force whilst oblivious to the reality of what’s happening in businesses and communities across the country.

If nothing changes, the cycle of offending will just roll on. Police resources will be lower so thefts won’t be investigated, retailers won’t report because they don’t see the point, and criminals will be the big winners because they’ll have little short of free rein to offend as they see fit. But then what usually happens is that criminals get more brazen, want quicker results, and turn to crimes like robbery, burglary, theft with a weapon, violence and abuse. Of course, when it gets to that point the police are much more involved, but the damage is already done.

Today’s announcement from Ministers aims to turn the tide on theft and send a message that serious shoplifters will be sent to prison. Is this a perfect solution? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The most effective way to stop reoffending is not always a custodial sentence, and the importance of rehabilitation and ‘second chance’ programmes has been well-documented, but we hope that this is the start of a more serious conversation in Government about how the police and the justice system will do more to stop reoffending.

Deciding what to do with offenders when they get hauled in front of a judge is only one piece of the puzzle though. The only way we’re going to get to that point on a more regular basis and make a difference in the long term is if retailers take the time to report all incidents when they occur, and encourage their colleagues to do so as well. Retailers have made almost a quarter of a billion pounds’ worth of investment in crime prevention and detection measures like CCTV over the last year, so they have a wealth of evidence that could be decisive in an investigation, but without reporting a lot of this technology is just going to waste. We’re not under the illusion that the police will be able to attend every time someone steals from a store, and nor would we want them to, but we desperately need a joined up approach where the police do respond to all violent incidents, can recognise repeat offenders, intervene to stop them, and work with retailers so that the tools they have at their disposal such as CCTV or facial recognition are useful in an investigation.

This entry was posted by Chris onTue, 01/08/2023 - 15:16
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