Monday, October 02, 2006


I saw this on the news the other day- an article about shoplifting.

In it, the British Retail Consortium, after surveying over 10000 retail outfits, found that shopkeepers feel abandoned by both the government and police for not treating shoplifting as a priority.

I am not in the least surprised.

The BRC director is quoted as stating "Attempting to hand shoplifters over to the police has become time-wasting and futile. Too often they are not interested and even when there is a successful prosecution the penalties are derisory"

You may be surprised to hear I agree. Hearing a call come out on the radio of "Shoplifter detained" you can hear the collective groan.

If you take on a shoplifter, it means that's your shift finished with. If it's late in the day, you can forget going home on time.

Things that need to be done:

Custody procedure with prisoner. Depending on the time of day, no less than an hour, sometimes up to four.
Crime reports and arrest notes justifying arrest of said prisoner: depending on your speed of writing and typing: you're looking at an hour.
Taking full evidential statements from the store staff and any witnesses at the store: at least 2 hours. Some stores "train" their own staff to write statements but they are invariably shocking and have to be rewritten anyway.
Seizing, viewing (if, of course, your police station has the suitable equipment to view it- and it works) and exhibiting CCTV statements: 1hr.
If your prisoner is adult, mentally competent, speaks english and does not require a solicitor then game on, you can get on with an interview straight away. Otherwise you have to wait until a solicitor arrives, and/or an appropriate adult, and/or an interpreter. If you happen to arrest said person outside of office hours then you will be waiting hours for someone to turn up.
Once all the above is done, then you have to either speak to a representative from the CPS (however- see above about office hours) or email them the circumstances and wait for a reply.

You can then charge your prisoner. If, indeed, that is the advice from CPS.

If your prisoner is bailable, then thankfully thats it done for that day. If not, then terribly sorry you now have to spend another couple of hours preparing a full case file for the next available court hearing.

By now you've probably missed the last train home and every second word is an expletive.

So. Shoplifters are not very popular with response Pc's. They require a lot of unglamorous work which quite often, as the BRC director says, only results in some poxy £30 fine in court.

So what's your problem you might ask? This is, after all, our job, to deal with criminals no matter how big or small.

I agree.

However, I do believe shops should take on more of the responsibility of dealing with shoplifters. At the moment, my perception is that we turn up and we are expected to magic them away and do absolutely everything. Perhaps the BRC don't realise just how time-consuming it is to deal with a shoplifter. As it stands at the moment it takes forever and its no wonder shopkeepers wonder why grumpy coppers turn up.

What I would like to see happen never will. I'd like to follow what I understand to be the US system, where the role of the police over there is pretty much to verify the details of the suspect. Everything else is done by the store: the whole process, from gathering evidence, interview to presenting the case at court.

That'll never happen here, but I think there should be a compromise.

Stores providing proper training on how to write statements would be a start. It really is not that difficult. Just saving those 2 hours would be a huge bonus. The workload needs to be shared out. To use the SMT's favourite tagline, we need to "work in partnership".

At the moment, if I have 5 cars out and 5 shoplifters come out- not unheard of- I would lose the entire response capacity for my area. Surely nobody would say that is what should continue to happen. Police are not an unlimited resource!

In the meantime, my force (sorry, service) established a Prisoner Handling Team, with the objective of taking on the time consuming aspects of interview, case files etc and getting the response cars back out. However, the team is staffed by officers abstracted from response team. Give with one hand, take away with the other.

Conclusion to this rant? shopkeepers feel abandoned (I know some store managers don't even bother calling us, or state that the suspect is violent in order so the 999 call handler grades it higher priority); Officers dread dealing with them. The only winner is..... the shoplifter.