A hidden tolerance seems to exist when it comes to shoplifting and it’s time we questioned this complacency.
Shoplifting is not a victimless crime. Contrary to common belief, retailers don’t simply absorb the costs of shoplifting in their outgoings - they pass them on to the consumer who will eventually pay over the odds for goods.
Another unchallenged myth is that shoplifting only dents profits. In reality, when a shoplifter steals an item, the store not only loses the profit on the product but must also recover the entire cost of item itself which is only achievable by selling more products to recoup the loss. Significant income losses can result in staff cutbacks and even closure, which have financial repercussions on the individuals affected.
For practical reasons, retailers must build the costs of shoplifting into their budgets but too frequently this offending is regarded as ‘inevitable’. This passive acceptance will continue to eat into their profits and place their customers at a price disadvantage while also swallowing vast police resources.
Last year, losses for retail businesses amounted to £1.6bn in the UK – 39% of which was shop theft. Fewer than 10% of shoplifting cases are ever reported to the police.
This means the true scale of the problem is largely concealed. Crime across Nottinghamshire is stabilising despite the ongoing financial constraints facing the Force but shoplifting is one area which shows no signs of diminishing. This could be a by-product of the financial hardships facing many people but it is something which simply cannot be ignored.
We have invested significant resources into detecting and deterring shoplifting and are working with the private sector in the shape of a new board called Police and Business Crime in Nottinghamshire (PABCIN).
The organisation manages and analyses intelligence relating to very low-level crime, liaising with shopkeepers and police to share information on offenders while also recording intelligence on a database.
I have committed £10,000 of funding to PABCIN while a further £10,000 has been earmarked from the Prevent funding stream to enhance detection rates. With three dedicated PCSOs to feed information into the system, the aim is to improve detection capabilities and early results indicate that this is improving. However, prevention is still a key area to address and this requires a bigger commitment from retailers themselves.
We have also studied the offending patterns of 63 offenders which has highlighted the limited benefits of prison, especially where sentences are too short.
Evidently, we need to be focusing our attention on the early part of the offending cycle, not the end, when we have the opportunity to stop the offence occurring altogether. GPS tagging can play an important role in such prevention but this requires fine-tuning to enable alerts to be raised as soon as a potential offender enters a retail territory and not when they leave their house. I have recently funded 20 extra tags to be developed for shoplifting prevention purposes and we expect to work very closely with the Reducing Re-offending Partnership over the monitoring process in an effort to prevent them coming into shops.
The investment we are channelling into shoplifting is proof of how determined the Force is in tackling the problem. But we cannot do it alone. We need the support of retailers and consumers to share this commitment and be motivated towards prevention.