In a spoof take on Marks and Spencer’s famous “this is no ordinary…” ads, West Midlands Police has launched a new campaign to pull the shutters on shoplifting.

Ahead of an anticipated seasonal rise in retail crime the force is stepping up its efforts to target shoplifters and – for the first time – get those tempted to buy stolen goods to think about what they’re really funding.

Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands David Jamieson said: “Shoplifting is not a new issue for the retail sector but it remains an issue that affects us all.

“The retail sector is a major employer and a big player in the local economy.

“Shoplifting damages business and undermines the high street by increasing prices and adding costs.  We want to see retail businesses thriving and growing, not damaged by criminal activity.

“When people buy goods they know are stolen they are hurting businesses, costing jobs, fuelling illegal drug taking and thereby supporting the lifestyles of organised, violent and dangerous criminals.

“This campaign is about keeping people in jobs and businesses afloat, as well as stopping drug dealers encouraging users to prey on the retail sector.  I want everyone to think carefully about where they buy so that they are not feeding drug abuse, putting money in criminals’ pockets and risking the jobs of hardworking retail staff.”

Superintendent Keith Fraser, the force’s lead on business crime, said, “Most people wrongly believe that shoplifting is a victimless crime. The reality is quite different.

“Our experience tells us that almost three quarters of all people who are brought into custody and test positive for drugs have been arrested on suspicion of thefts from shops or market stalls.

“If they hadn’t been caught they would have sold those goods and used the money to buy more drugs.

“That would have meant dealers being attracted into the neighbourhood, doorstep disputes over unpaid debts, discarded needles in the street, criminal associates drawn to the area to offend to pay for drugs and so on.

“That’s not to mention the negative impact the actual shoplifting has on store staff who live in fear of a violent attack from thieves they challenge.

“By buying cheap cheese, meat, alcohol or anything else at a price too good to be true people are fuelling a complex cycle of crime.”

The situation Supt Fraser describes mirrors the real life and tragic case of a man in Wolverhampton.

Unemployed Mr C had a 10 year long drug addiction funded through crime.

The 33-year-old was arrested 119 times mostly for theft offences across the city but he preferred to steal from shops closer to his Wednesfield home believing local shops were a “soft option”. He was found guilty of 74 shoplifting crimes over his criminal career.

Goods stolen ranged from vacuums and radios to cheese, meat and nappies.

The bounty was sold to drinkers in the city’s pubs with the cash used to buy heroin.

Mr C’s ‘customers’ were so ‘generous’ in funding his drug addiction that the dealers he bought from moved in near where he lived because of the high demand from him and his associates.

The doorstep dealing and drug taking often led to arguments and fights which ruined the lives of law-abiding neighbours. Mr C would also take drugs in public sometimes in front of horrified shoppers and school children.

In November 2008 Mr C’s drug addiction, fuelled through people buying his shoplifted items at knockdown prices, claimed his life. He died after overdosing on heroin in a shop doorway in Wolverhampton city centre.

As part of the new campaign posters and postcards will be distributed to stores across the region and people encouraged to share whatever information they have on the shoplifting − a crime which accounts for 1 in 10 of every offence reported in the West Midlands.

CCTV footage of wanted shoplifting suspects will be shared across the force’s Facebook, Flickr and Twitter sites.

The new campaign comes with the backing of local business leaders. Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce said:  “We would welcome any initiative which helps retailers to remain profitable.

“Businesses have enough to contend with as the latest retail sales figures published by the ONS show a decline in retail sales.

“Any measures implemented which can counter the negative impact on shopkeepers is to be applauded. We should be doing everything possible to support retailers and drive a strong economic recovery.”

For CCTV footage of suspected shoplifters who officers want to track down visit: www.flickr.com/photos/westmidlandspolice

To report a shoplifter, share information on where they’re selling stolen goods or to give details of people buying from them, call police on 101.
The independent charity Crimestoppers will pass information on to police anonymously if contacted on 0800 555 111. Callers can also claim a reward if a suspect is arrested and charged.

Key shoplifting stats:

    • Each year West Midlands Police investigate around 16,200 thefts from shops and stalls − the equivalent of 1 in 10 of every crime recorded in the county.
    • Investigating thefts from shops and stalls costs the force − and therefore West Midlands tax payers – approximately £1,335,432 per year. This figure is even higher when the end to end costs and cost to the court and probation services are added.
    • Of all people booked into West Midlands custody and tested for drug use 68 per cent (1,848) had been arrested for thefts from shops and stalls.
    • Initiatives to target shoplifters in the West Midlands includes reatil radio schemes linking officers with shopkeepers, shop security marking goods with invisible ink to help trace stolen goods and a robust offender management programme.
    • The top three most shoplifted goods are whisky and other spirits; make-up and perfume; and razors*.
    • In 2012/2013 there were 2.7 million retail crime incidents nationally*.
    • Around £511 million worth of goods are lost to UK thieves each year*.
    • The total cost of shoplifting to British businesses £1.6 billion per year*.
    • The cost or retail crimes adds £37.04 to the cost of each households Christmas shopping bill*.

*Figures taken from the Centre for Retail Research website 05/11/2014.

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