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Shoplifting – not a Victimless Crime

Thursday, October 19th, 2023

One of the most impactful contributions to the recent Thames Valley Police Neighbourhood Policing Conference came from Sophie Roberts, Manager of the Budgens store at Yarnton.

There has been a great deal of content around Shoplifting in the media of late. Ms Roberts, speaking as a guest of the Police and Crime Commissioner, explained in stark detail why it is wrong to consider shoplifting a ‘victimless crime’, absorbed financially by businesses and causing limited real harm.

Effects of shoplifting impacting people and groups include:

  • Customers: losses may be passed on in prices; some higher value items may be removed from the shelves, or made more difficult to access. Opening hours may be curtailed for reasons of safety.
  • Staff and owners: feel unsafe, daunted by approaching suspected shoplifters. concerned about aggression. Concerned also about confronting the wrong people. Attitudes of owners towards losses may be variable, contributing to pressure on staff to approach suspects. Makes it more difficult to employ people in retail space.
  • Community: a feeling of being unsafe, less choice, higher prices, reduced opening hours.

Some instances of shoplifting may indeed be ‘low level’, perpetrated by people struggling to make ends meet. But increasingly it seems to be the thin end of a wedge. We hear increasingly of whole shopping bags being filled, shelves being cleared, trollies being filled and wheeled away. GANGS are getting involved, and their members are very likely to be involved in other forms of crime. Did you know, for example, that baby milk and dishwasher powder can be used to cut drugs?

Ms Roberts shared a story about how a situation had escalated, starting with a minor carrying out low-level shoplifting which over time escalated into threats against staff, in particular against a particular member of staff. These threats became more violent and sinister, targeting home and family and causing potentially fatal mental stress to the staff member.

Ms Roberts reported that about 80% of potential shoplifting crime is handled in-house (ie taking items off potential shoplifters, preventing their entry). But around 20% IS reported to Police, and by definition these are the more serious and often aggravated cases. This is why she appealed for reports to Police to receive much greater and more immediate attention.

Thames Valley Police: Securing your shop from shoplifters

We should be grateful to Ms Roberts for standing up at the conference and making such a clear case. The Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Barber, responded that this was a clear case of needing to understand the problems, and then approach them in problem solving mode. Working with stores, gathering intelligence, making it easier for businesses to report will all be important elements.

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