Police told to go easy on shoplifters taking food amid cost crisis

Police officers told to go easy on shoplifters who steal to eat amid cost of living crisis

  • Cops advised to use ‘discretion’ when deciding whether to prosecute thieves
  • Policing watchdog Andy Cooke told officers to consider those stealing to eat
  • Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary warned cost of living crisis will raise crime 
  • Follows news that officer who told Home Sec she relied on food banks took trip

Police officers were told yesterday to use their ‘discretion’ when deciding whether to prosecute shoplifters amid the cost of living crisis.

Andy Cooke, the new policing watchdog, risked the wrath of retailers yesterday as he suggested officers should weigh up whether it was best to haul those who steal to eat before the courts.

The Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary warned the rise in cost of living would ‘trigger an increase in crime’.

However, he advised police to use their ‘discretion’ to make sure such matters of law enforcement are ‘dealt with in the best way possible’.

Cops have been advised to think carefully about prosecuting shoplifters stealing to eat

Mr Cooke insisted that he didn’t want to be seen as ‘giving carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting’ or advocating an amnesty for people who commit crimes of poverty.

Nevertheless, his intervention could yet enrage retailers who warn it is ‘irresponsible to suggest that shoplifting should not be treated seriously’.

Mr Cooke, a former Merseyside police chief who took over as head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary last month, said yesterday: ‘The impact of poverty, and the impact of lack of opportunity for people, does lead to an increase in crime.’

He told The Guardian that forces across England and Wales were skilled in dealing with the tensions and dynamics of their communities, adding: ‘What they’ve got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issues. And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.’

Past economic slumps have led to a rise in offences such as theft. Mr Cooke added. ‘It’s one of the great things about being a police officer,’ he said. ‘You’re allowed to make your own decisions in relation to all of these issues. It’s not a new thing.’

His comments echo those of Donna Jones, who leads on serious violence and victims for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Last year she suggested that persistent shoplifters should be spared jail and mooted the idea that retailers could pay for the rehabilitation of drug offenders who steal to feed their habit.

But Tom Ironside of the British Retail Consortium rejected the idea, saying: ‘It is irresponsible to suggest that shop lifting should not be treated seriously. When confronted, shoplifting often results in violence and abuse against retail staff, many of whom are women, and it costs retailers £2.5billion a year, which includes the cost of the actual theft as well as security measures.’

He said last September: ‘The law enforcement response is already poor, with only 6 per cent of the daily 455 incidents of violence and abuse taken to court.’

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Cooke also called for every burglary victim to get a visit from the police, and said he believes three times as many crimes should be prosecuted.

The latest Home Office figures show the proportion of all offences resulting in a charge fell from 7.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent last year, which is nearly a third of the rate of 15.5 per cent in 2014/15 when records began.

‘I think it’s not unrealistic to aim for 20 per cent. That’s a realistic expectation in my view,’ Mr Cooke said. ‘I think when we have a return of 20,000 police officers and those officers have had an opportunity to be properly trained, with sustained financial support from the Government, I think that’s a realistic ambition.’

A detective who told Priti Patel that she now relies on food banks recently went on holiday to Portugal, it emerged yesterday.

Detective Constable Victoria Knight said she fears losing her home and had to borrow cash for petrol, despite devoting her life to public service.

But following the exchange at the Police Federation’s annual conference, she later told radio station LBC that she enjoyed a holiday in Portugal two years ago and was due to have another holiday with her family. The child protection officer from North Wales stressed that her mother paid for the trips as she was unable to afford them herself.

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