The government has announced it is investing £55.5m in facial recognition technology over the next four years to “help catch perpetrators and prevent shoplifting” in a bid to crack down on retail crime.

The investment will include the rollout of bespoke mobile units deployed in high streets across the country to help identify wanted people in crowded areas.

The mobile units will use live facial recognition software to capture footage for comparison with wanted images, alerting police to track down shoplifters and offenders.

This comes alongside the announcement that assaulting retail workers will be made a standalone criminal offence and perpetrators could face a six-month prison sentence as a result.

The government also plans to “clamp down” on repeat offenders by forcing individuals to wear tags if they repeatedly target high streets and retailers.

The Co-op said it “welcomes” the news. Chief executive Shirine Khoury-Haq said it will resonate with shopworkers “the length and breadth of the country”.

Retail voices heard

Khoury-Haq added: “It will make a real difference to the lives of not only thousands of our Co-op colleagues, but also shopworkers across the nation and it sends a strong and clear message to shopworkers that they have been listened to, and a warning to criminals that their unacceptable behaviour will no longer be tolerated.”

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said the announcement suggests the voices of those working in retail have “finally been heard”.

“This announcement sends a clear message that this abusive behaviour will not be tolerated,” she said. “It will improve the police response, which has historically been poor, as police will now have the necessary data to understand the scale of the problem and allocate sufficient resource to address this issue.

“Retailers are playing their part, spending over £1bn last year on crime prevention measures. The government has taken action, and it is vital that the police use this new legislation to step up their response to incidents. Together, we must stamp out this scourge in crime that has been sweeping the nation and ensure retail workers are given the vital protections they deserve.”