Police failed to attend 40 per cent of shoplifting incidents where there was violence, despite an agreement to prioritise such offences, official figures show.
Officers also failed to attend in a quarter of cases where the shoplifter was detained by shop or security staff, according to the data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
The figures represented a significant improvement on last year but revealed big performance differences between forces, with some achieving 100 per cent attendance rates for violent shoplifting incidents or where the offender was detained.
The figures were based on 31 of the 43 forces in England and Wales who were each asked to review 50 shop theft crimes from Dec 1 last year.
The exercise was designed to assess the impact of an agreement announced last October where police pledged to attend shoplifting incidents if there was violence against a store worker, a suspected thief was detained or officers were needed to secure evidence.
‘Epidemic’ of shoplifting
It was launched amid an “epidemic” of shoplifting, with offences rising by more than 30 per cent in a year to a record 1,300 a day. In the year to September 2023, there were 402,482 offences, the first time on record that it has passed 400,000 in a year.
Katy Bourne, head of retail crime for the Association of Police of Crime Commissioners, said that while there had been a “step forward” in attendance rates, she was “disappointed” that the amount of shoplifting and abuse of shopworkers had been allowed to rise to such levels.
“At the end of the day, pursuing leads and lines of inquiry should be what police should be doing anyway, regardless of the type of crime. These are the types of crimes that matter to the public,” she said.
“There’s a lot of work still to be done. There was still a quarter that didn’t respond to the call-out. I want a consistent and prolonged approach by police to tackle it.”
The data showed that of more than 1,500 crimes reviewed across all retailers, police attended 60 per cent where violence had been used, leaving 40 per cent unattended. Some 16 per cent of the forces sampled reported 100 per cent attendance to this type of incident.
New violence against shopworkers law
Police attendance for detained shoplifters was 76 per cent, leaving 24 per cent unattended. Some 21 per cent had 100 per cent attendance rates.
The NPCC said attendance depended on whether an offender had left the scene or been let go before police were called, how soon after the incident it was reported, whether a retailer may not support a prosecution, or when officers are dealing with or are diverted to an urgent incident elsewhere.
The British Retail Consortium is expected to call on Wednesday for a new specific standalone offence of violence against a shopworker, with attacks and abuse of staff at a record high of more than 400 incidents a day.
Shop managers have told of ordeals such as groups of masked and armed youngsters battering through glass doors, leaping over kiosks and looting shelves.
The Co-op has reported assaults on staff have increased by almost 30 per cent, with 20 per cent more anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse.
Threatened with knives and screwdrivers
Employees described being threatened by raiders with knives and screwdrivers - with Co-op worker Charlene Corbin, 28, sharing snaps of her bloodied face after she was bottled by a shoplifter.
David McKelvey, a former Scotland Yard detective chief inspector and founder of TM Eye, which provides retailers with private detectives who apprehend and prosecute shoplifters, said many stores had introduced non-intervention policies because of the risk of injury to staff or to the shoplifter.
He said this was being exploited by prolific offenders who felt they now had free rein to steal. “There needs to be more enforcement. If you start catching the shoplifters and put them before the courts and they get decent sentences you will solve the problem very quickly,” he said.