Durham is not immune to this trend either: 4,835 shoplifting incidents were recorded in County Durham and Darlington in 2022-23. This number, as shocking as it is, obscures the devastating impact this crime has on retail workers. They are the forgotten victims of shoplifting whose voices are rarely heard.
Unlike emergency services workers, their service to their customers has often been taken for granted during the Covid lockdown. Vendors and security guards had no choice to work from home and so they left their families behind and often reported to work only to be verbally or physically abused and sometimes even spat at as they tried to enforce strict Covid restrictions .
As well as being victims of crime, retail workers are victims of anti-social behavior as they endure harassment, alarm and distress on a daily basis.
Unlike many victims, they cannot avoid the place where they were previously victimized because that place is their place of work.
The impact of these crimes on the mental health and well-being of workers cannot be overlooked.
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It is extremely worrying that abuse and attacks on store workers have doubled since 2019. Even if a shoplifting case ends up in court, it is unlikely that the perpetrator will be sentenced to prison, even if the perpetrator has committed dozens of crimes.
Shoplifting is certainly not a trivial crime. It is estimated that up to a third of all commercial crimes (thefts) are related to illegal drug use. Many criminals steal from stores to support their habit and, more recently, in response to the cost of living crisis.
No one should feel unsafe going to work. The increasing incidence of shoplifting, violence and anti-social behavior in our retail stores is a concern for every police and crime commissioner in the country. That’s why this week we spoke to the Home Office about the benefits of implementing advanced surveillance systems such as facial recognition technology and CCTV cameras to make it easier to identify and arrest shoplifters. This sophisticated technology can also help prevent crime by increasing the risk of getting caught.
Preventing retail crime depends on effective neighborhood policing. Unfortunately, Durham is one of only 15 forces that has not been able to make up for the number of officers lost to austerity.
I have called on the current and shadow governments to commit to restoring all police forces to 2010 levels and closing the ever-widening gap between rich and poor forces by introducing a fairer funding formula.
If we could replace these officers, we could increase city center patrols, expand our neighborhood teams and take strong action against anti-social behavior, drug taking and drug dealing.
It’s time to put an end to retail crime. That’s why I’m convening a force-wide Safer Business Task Group to address this issue head-on. By taking a zero-tolerance approach and responding effectively to offenders while addressing the underlying cause of their behavior, we can strive to create a safer operating environment for both retail employees and their employers.
FIND MORE COMMENTS AND OPINIONS FROM THE NORTHERN ECHO HERE
- Joy Allen is a Labor Police and Crime Commissioner at Durham Constabulary