Retail crime ‘now at epidemic levels’

Survey shows 67% of retail staff have been a victim of violence and threats

Crime against retailers is now at epidemic proportions
Some 91% of respondents in a Retail NI survey say they have experienced shoplifting on a regular basis (Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

Nobody in Northern Ireland should be in any doubt about the scale of the current crime wave on our high streets. There are epidemic levels of shoplifting, persistent plague of antisocial behaviour and, worst of all, assault and abuse of shop workers.

Following an extensive survey of its members, Retail NI recently launched a comprehensive action plan to tackle crime against members.

Entitled ‘Working Together’, the report includes the results of a survey of over 300 Retail NI members in villages, towns, and cities from all over the north. It also includes 17 recommendations for the Stormont Executive and PSNI

The survey results paint a bleak picture:

  • 67% of respondents retail staff have been a victim of violence and threats;
  • 51% of respondents have staff who have left because of assault and verbal abuse;
  • 91% respondents have experienced shoplifting on a regular basis;
  • 72% respondents are pleased with police response but 91% of those responded were disappointed with follow up;
  • 80% respondents have never had any contact with Police and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSP) with 35% of those surveyed didn’t know what a PCSP was.

‘Working Together’ highlights the huge impact crime is having on our members business, their staff, and the wider economy. The statistics that 67% of those surveyed reported that their staff have been victims of assault and threats and 51% were losing staff as a result are startling. This translates into thousands of retail staff leaving their jobs.

Our members are extremely frustrated with the criminal justice system and feel let down by the punishments - or lack of - for offenders. Confidence-building measures are urgently needed along with visible action being taken against those who are found guilty of theft and intimation shop staff.

While we highlight how serious the problems are, our focus is on solutions. We want to reinforce the message that a more effective partnership between business, police, Department of Justice and the public is the only way the situation can be improved.

The Prime Minister announced that the assault of shop workers will now be made a specific criminal office in England and Wales (it already applies in Scotland), Retail NI has called for Northern Ireland to be included in new legislation.

Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK not to have assault of shop workers as a specific criminal offence. This is top of our list of priorities for the Justice Minister to help deter criminals and to protect shop staff.

Retail NI also want to see PSNI Neighbourhood Teams being properly funded and resourced to ensure town and city centres are safe places for staff and shoppers alike. Technology has a key role to play in this as well. We want to see an enhanced rate relief scheme for independent retailers who invest in in-store systems such as facial recognition.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

In conclusion, wholesale and retail is Northern Ireland’s largest sector with over 6,100 businesses, employing over 129,000 people. It makes up 16% of all jobs in the region. This crime epidemic is now impacting tens of thousands of businesses and workers and needs an urgent co-ordinated multi-departmental and agency approach to tackle it.

  • Glyn Roberts is chief executive of Retail NI