Ten of Britain’s largest retailers are set to fund a new police operation that aims to deter shoplifters. Under Project Pegasus, police will run CCTV pictures of shoplifting incidents provided by the retailers via the Police National Database.
According to The Times, the scheme will use facial recognition technology, giving police a “national picture of where shoplifting gangs are operating and the shops they are targeting”. Project Pegasus is expected to be paid £600,000 from ten retailers, including John Lewis, Next, Co-op and Tesco.
The operation comes under government efforts to make sure “all forces show zero tolerance”. The move comes after the Office for National Statistics revealed shoplifting crimes have risen by a quarter this year. “High streets … risk becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs,” said Sharon White, chairwoman of department store chain John Lewis, in an article in Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Monday.
The British Retail Consortium estimates the number of “theft incidents” from shops at 8 million a year – twice the level of five years ago, and almost a 30 per cent increase in the past year alone. In some cities, incidence is up more than 60 per cent this year.
“Every time I speak with retailers, crime is getting worse. Thieves are becoming bolder, and more aggressive,” Helen Dickinson, head of the British Retail Consortium, said recently. “Violence and abusive behaviour are on the rise. Many employees are facing threats with weapons, physical assault, and racial and sexual abuse.
But while more than 80,000 people a year were charged with shoplifting a decade ago, in the year to March the figure was just 48,210. That means charges were laid in just 14 per cent of the total number of shoplifting reports the police received. More than half the incidents were closed without a suspect being identified.
In 2014, the British government downgraded the shoplifting of goods worth less than £200 to a summary offence, attracting only a £70 fine. This was done to relieve pressure on over-stretched police forces. As in the US, however, the reforms reduced the incentive for police to pursue most shoplifting cases, and encouraged the perpetrators to act with increasing impunity.
Policing minister Chris Philp has “tasked police leaders with drawing up a target list of prolific shoplifters” to set up a national shoplifting database which can be used by police and retailers nationwide, says The Times.
More information is available here: Retailers to pay police to deter shoplifters as crime soars – Retail Gazette