Co-op boss reveals stores hire ex-cops and veterans to patrol aisles as staff are attacked with weapons – but have to let shoplifters go because police are ignoring 80% of cases
Police and army veterans working undercover for Co-op are catching shoplifters only to have to let them go because police are ignoring 80 per cent of cases, a senior executive claimed today.
The chain has witnessed a 41 per cent rise in incidents of shoplifting in the first eight months of the year compared to the last, MailOnline can exclusively reveal.
Paul Gerrard, the chain’s campaigns and public affairs director, said the number of cases of violence being used against staff had also increased by 25 per cent.
The chain has invested in undercover security guards who perform citizen’s arrests on thieves, but Mr Gerrard – who used to work in law enforcement – said that in the majority of cases they had to be let go because officers never turn up.
‘These are highly trained expert guards – often ex-police and ex-forces – who work undercover in stores where there’s a particular problem,’ he told MailOnline.
‘They will intervene and make a citizen’s arrest and detain the individual. But even in those cases when we’ve detained an offender and called for police assistance the police don’t attend in 80 per cent of cases.
‘That’s despite us having the offender in our control in the store, with CCTV evidence.
‘We’ll keep them until we know if the police are going to turn up or not – that could be 15 minutes or an hour.
‘But if they’re not going to turn up they let them go.
‘In some ways it’s even worse than not intervening in the first place because they know that even if they’re caught they can still get out.’
He continued: ‘We are running at about a thousand incidents of shoplifting a day across our two and a half thousand stores.
‘Four or five colleagues will be physically attacked every day. We’ve seen syringes, knives and we even saw a medieval mace a couple of years ago.
‘This isn’t just a bit of pushing and shoving – it’s serious violence leading to broken bones.
‘What’s behind the increase isn’t opportunism. The majority of the rise is down to gangs and individuals who are targeting our stores to steal large volumes of products.’
Reported retail thefts have now risen by 27 per cent year on year across ten of the UK’s largest cities – and were up by 68 per cent in some, according to the British Retail Consortium.
The trade body added that incidents of violence and abuse against retail staff have nearly doubled from more than 450 per day in 2019/2020 to more than 850 last year – with crimes including racial or sexual abuse, assault and threats with weapons.
Mr Gerrard said the Co-op had invested heavily in store security but needed tougher enforcement to confront the problem.
‘Some forces are really good at coming out and some are really bad. There’s no consistency at all.
‘If you’re to look at Essex Police, Sussex or Nottinghamshire Police you’ll see that they’ve worked with us to get dozens of prolific offenders off the streets. That shows it’s a solvable problem – this is about some specific regular offenders.
‘We want police forces to take this seriously and recognise the impact it has on shop workers and the viability of shops so we can fix this. persistent and prolific offenders and work with retailers.
‘Because at the minute most police forces don’t treat it as a priority and ask us to report it to 999 and 101 instead.’
Today the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) said it is facing a £12 million jump in the cost of shoplifting as bosses at the retail giant blamed a surge in organised crime.
Dame Sharon, chairwoman of the department store owner, told reporters that the recent spate in shoplifting at stores was driven by ‘crime groups’ rather than thefts linked to the soaring cost of living.
The boss said she met with Sir Mark Rowley, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, earlier this week to discuss shoplifting.
The retailer called on the Government to change legislation in England and Wales to make it a criminal offence to abuse shopworkers, in line with current rules in Scotland.
Last month, the group’s supermarket arm Waitrose said it was offering free tea and coffee to police officers in an effort to boost their presence around stores.
The company said it mainly saw a rise in the cost of crime due to theft, as well as ‘related wastage’.
Ms White said: ‘Like other retailers, we have seen more activity linked to organised crime.
‘We have raised the issue because the safety of our staff is incredibly important, as a business we also feel this is an important issue from a societal point of view.’
German discount supermarket chain Lidl said separately on Thursday that it was stepping up investment in store security amid increasing rates of shoplifting, by ramping up CCTV coverage and rolling out more body-worn cameras in its outlets.
Ryan McDonnell, chief executive of Lidl’s British business, said it was a ‘social issue’ that the industry is working together to address.
He said: ‘There’s no doubt that it’s affecting the whole industry and we are not immune to it. The safety and security of our workers is a priority.
‘We are working with the British Retail Consortium with the rest of our competitors in the sector coming together to look at how we can tackle it.
‘We welcome the engagement from the Government and the police.’