Met Police not attending more than half of shoplifting crimes

Between April 2022 and April 2023 only 38% of shoplifting-related calls in London were attended by police officers, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Fewer than half of shoplifting reports in London are being attended by the police, new data has shown.

Metropolitan Police statistics show that between April 2022 and April 2023 only 38% of shoplifting-related calls were attended by officers.

Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat on the London Assembly, said the figures demonstrate the need for further government action in tackling “the organised criminal gangs that operate shoplifting rings”.

A Home Office spokesman said that the government has succeeded since 2010 in substantially driving down neighbourhood crimes including burglary, robbery and theft.

The Met’s data shows that the percentage of shoplifting reports attended by police since April 2023 had improved to 44% by the end of September.

But the rate has not been above 50% since at least 2018, the data showed.

Pidgeon said: “Shoplifting is at epidemic levels in London now, with many business owners feeling like it has all but been decriminalised and many retail staff increasingly being put in harm’s way, especially in smaller independent stores which cannot afford security.

“There is no such thing as victimless crime and while shoplifting may officially be considered a ‘low-level offence’, it does cause a huge amount of damage to our local businesses, especially when profit margins are tight and can leave victims of altercations scarred and anxious for years to come.

“We need to see a proper return to community policing and the Met responding to more shoplifting cases.”

She added: “We also need to see the UK government step up efforts to tackle the organised criminal gangs that operate shoplifting rings – with the funding they announced earlier this year amounting to a pitiful 8p per shoplifting offence.”

The assembly member was referring to the government’s announcement earlier this year that it would be contributing £30,000 towards a new project called Pegasus, aimed at tackling shoplifting gangs.

The Lib Dems nationally have pointed out that there were 365,164 shoplifting offences recorded by police across England and Wales last year, meaning that the government’s contribution equates to just 8.2p per offence.

A group of 13 retailers, including John Lewis, Tesco and the Co-op, have agreed to stump up around £800,000 over two years towards the project – meaning that the total funding pot is significantly larger.

A Met Police spokesperson said in response to Pidgeon’s comments: “While it is not realistic for the Met to respond to every case of shoplifting in London due to demand, where a crime is being committed, a suspect is on the scene, and the situation has or is likely to become heated or violent, our call handlers will assess this and seek to despatch officers where appropriate.

“A London-wide roll-out of ‘operation retail’ is now in place, following a successful pilot, allowing more effective and stream-lined reporting of shoplifting where no offender has been detained or violence occurred. This provides consistency and confidence for retailers to report crimes.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Shoplifting is a blight on our communities, it damages businesses and hurts our highstreets. The policing minister has made clear that police should be taking a zero-tolerance approach to this crime, and in the last year charges are up almost a third.

“Our retail crime action plan will drive down criminal behaviour and improve public confidence in the police response when it does occur. It will see police attending more crime scenes, patrolling badly affected areas, and pursuing all reasonable lines of enquiry to catch more perpetrators.

“Since 2010 our communities are safer, with neighbourhood crimes including burglary, robbery and theft down 50% and violent crime down 52%.”

A spokesman for London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Against the backdrop of huge national cuts to policing by the government, the mayor has been working hard to plug the gap by investing record amounts from City Hall to ensure more police officers are available locally to respond to calls, support victims and keep communities safe.

“This includes expanding neighbourhood policing and funding 500 additional police community support officers who will be embedded in neighbourhoods across London.

“The Met are taking action to identify and arrest London’s most prolific shoplifters and working closely with retail leaders to increase the safety of public-facing shop staff. Sadiq will continue to support the Met commissioner and hold him to account on delivering the improvements to policing that Londoners deserve as we continue to build a safer London for everyone.”

A source close to Khan said: “Sadiq is working hard to reform the Met and being tough on crime and its causes.

“However, he’s doing it with one hand tied behind his back in the face of over £1bn of Tory austerity cuts to cops and youth services.

“He would welcome the Lib Dems joining him in making the case for the government to properly fund our police.”

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