Research carried out by the Co-op reveals that retail crime in its stores has reached “record levels” this year.

The grocer has recorded a 35% year-on-year increase in retail crime in the six months to June 2023, which it said equates to nearly 1,000 incidents every day.

The Co-op also reported that frontline workers had seen physical assaults increase year on year by 30%, with antisocial behaviour and verbal abuse increasing by 20%.

Findings from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) research revealed that 63% of crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders with many being linked to “local organised criminal gangs”.

A freedom of information request by the Co-op also showed that police did not respond to 71% of all serious retail crimes reported.

The convenience retailer says the level of crime is “unsustainable” and could mean some communities become a “no-go” area for local stores. 

The Co-op is now calling on all police forces and crime commissioners to target prolific offenders and local organised criminal gangs as they currently have no “fear of being caught or charged”.

Co-op Food managing director Matt Hood said: “We know retail crime is driven by repeat and prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs. It is an ongoing challenge for all retailers and in the worst instances can even be described as ‘looting’. 

“I have seen some horrific incidents of brazen and violent theft in our stores, where my store colleagues feel scared and threatened. I see first hand how this criminal behaviour also erodes the very fabric of our communities – it’s hard to over-emphasise how important urgent change is. 

“Co-op has invested significantly in keeping colleagues and stores safe, but we need the police to play their part. Too often, Forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis added: “Evidence is mounting that retail crime is on the increase, added to this Co-op report is a 24% uplift in official police-recorded incidents of shoplifting. This is very concerning for our members in retail because shoplifting is not a victimless crime. 

“Theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers and, as the Co-op rightly says, it is often linked to organised crime gangs. Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers. 

“There must be better coordination to ensure that government, retail employers, police and the courts work together to help protect shopworkers, giving them the respect they deserve.”

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