Shoplifting 'epidemic' hits major European city as stores offer to equip staff with bodycams

Retail chains have invested in body cameras, increased CCTV cameras and more security guards in an effort to deter potential shoplifters.

Shoplifting 'epidemic' hits major European city as stores offer to equip staff with bodycams

Major retail chains in the United Kingdom have grown so concerned about increased shoplifting they have provided employees with body cameras to deter crime. 

"Recently, we’ve had a massive increase in the cases of shoplifting," Benedict Selvaratnam, owner of the Fresh Market in Court in London's Croydon, told Fox News Digital. "Where it used to be three to five incidents in the week, now we’re suffering from anywhere to three to 10 a day. It’s very much out of control."

Fashion chain Primark joined supermarket chains Tesco and Sainsbury’s in supplying employees with body cameras and adding security guards and CCTV cameras and systems. 

The increased measures occur as businesses like Target, Foot Locker and Dick’s Sporting Goods all warned that their profits have been under pressure from loss of inventory due to thefts. Department store chain John Lewis said earlier this month shoplifting had reached "epidemic" levels in Britain.

George Weston, CEO of Primark owner Associated British Foods, announced the new measures recently, stressing that while the police and Crown Prosecution Service are "doing more" to tackle a "problem which is just getting steadily worse," the efforts are "not enough yet." 

Sainsbury’s first made headlines for its extra security measures in February 2020 at a few locations in a pilot program amid calls from business owners for a crime crackdown, the Evening Standard reported. 

In a statement to Fox News Digital, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said "the safety of our colleagues and customers continues to be our highest priority." 

"We were the first retailer to introduce colleague-worn cameras in 2018 to protect our team, and colleagues now wear cameras in every Sainsbury’s store," the spokesperson explained. "We increased the number of security officers in our stores this year and use measures to deter criminal activity like our in-store detectives and security doors.

"Preventing and reducing crime in our stores will support our ongoing efforts to keep prices low for customers," the spokesperson added, noting that the company plans to complete its rollout of body cameras to Argos store chains this year. 

Tesco Chief Executive Ken Murphy in an op-ed about the decision earlier this month to significantly boost security in stores insisted stores "cannot go on like this." 

"After a long campaign by retailers and the [Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers] last year, the government made attacking shop workers an aggravating factor in convictions, meaning offenders should get longer sentences," he wrote. "Judges should make use of this power.

"But we need to go further, as in Scotland, and make abuse or violence towards retail workers an offense in itself," he added. He was referring to Scotland’s 2021 Protection of Workers Act, which made it a criminal offense to assault, threaten or abuse retail workers. 

Murphy called for greater cooperation between businesses to share information and work with the police, saying, "We’ll only be able to stop these things if we work together."

Crime dropped during the pandemic but has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels. In London, the number of reported incidents of theft, which is defined as the illegal taking of property without violence or intimidation, has largely returned to the same rate. Around 22,595 cases were reported in August 2023. 

Selvaratnam explained that a lack of authorities in the streets at night seems to have emboldened would-be criminals and led to a "massive increase in the last few months." 

He alleged that the lack of punishment for minor offenses has also helped increase criminal activity. 

"They're well aware that the police are not going to come out for any kind of theft below £50 (about $65). So, they're quite comfortable taking up to that value, knowing that there most likely is not going to be a police response. So, that's why they continue doing it," Selvaratnam argued. 

The Daily Telegraph in August reported the British Ministry of Justice would publish a new draft code of practice that would suggest police officers issue cautions to first-time offenders of "low level" crime, which includes theft and shoplifting, in an effort to help alleviate the immense backlog of cases in the criminal courts. 

"The current system for these punishments has grown unwieldy and has led to inconsistencies in their use," British Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation Damian Hinds told the outlet, which noted the system would require a thorough review. 

"This simplified system will ensure victims see justice being delivered, better nip lower-level criminality in the bud and guarantee the most serious offenders always face the full glare of the courtroom," he added. 

Reuters contributed to this report.