Shoplifting in British supermarkets has increased more than 7% in the last four years, figures documenting the annual rise in incidents have suggested.
Figures obtained by the Press Association from police forces in England and Wales show officers were called to investigate 78,110 shoplifting incidents in 2017, up from 74,662 the previous year, 74,124 in 2015, and 72,423 before that.
The data, based on comparable figures from 25 police forces under Freedom of Information laws, also indicates a year-on-year rise in shoplifting and pick-pocketing incidents at supermarkets combined of 2.4%, 1.9% and 2.7% between 2014 and 2017.
Incomplete figures from 27 forces show there were a further 46,973 shoplifting incidents, and an additional 1,659 thefts against the person, at supermarkets during 2018, up until the end of the summer.
The British Retail Consortium said the data highlighted the plight of both shoppers and owners in shouldering the cost of shoplifting.
James Martin, the trade organisation’s crime and security adviser, said: “These figures indicate that, despite the best efforts of our members, criminals are increasingly targeting supermarkets.
“Ultimately, the costs are borne by everyday shoppers and those who rely on retail for their livelihoods.
“We acknowledge the difficult resourcing and prioritisation decisions which police forces face, but it is clearly time that every police force gives retail crime the strategic priority it deserves.”
John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “These figures mirror the increase seen in many other types of crime. And, although they may not be considered the most serious of offences, it is important those responsible are not allowed to do as they wish without the fear of being caught.
“The reality is that officers can be tied up, sometimes for hours dealing with shoplifters, preventing them from answering other 999 calls which may be more urgent. It’s all about priorities.
“Ten years of the Government’s austerity policies, which have seen officer numbers cut by nearly 22,000, have resulted in policing in England and Wales becoming an almost entirely reactive service. There are simply not enough officers to deal with what is being asked of them.
“The sad fact is that as forces struggle to meet 999-call demand, incidents such as these are increasingly likely not to be attended by officers at all which, as a serving police constable with 26 years’ service, I find quite shocking.”
The data showed there were 400,565 shoplifting at supermarket allegations made to police between January 2014 and the end of summer 2018, according to 25 forces in England and Wales with relevant data, and an additional four constabularies with partial data.
Police recorded a further 59,121 call-outs to supermarkets during this time frame for incidents such as stealing from a member of the public, bicycle theft, and raiding a coin meter.
The figures are only an indication of the true extent of shoplifting in British supermarkets, as 18 forces either only provided partial data, failed to respond, or withheld the information.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “The numbers of reported thefts pale in comparison to the reality of retail crime. In total, we estimated over 950,000 incidents of theft in convenience stores last year.
“In the convenience sector, more than half of thefts are now not reported due to frustration with police forces not investigating or prosecuting thieves.
“Challenging offenders in store often leads to violent incidents which have a huge personal impact on retailers and shopworkers. Only Government action can break the cycle of more theft, violence, inadequate police response and ineffective sanctions.”