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Call for compassion for shoplifters rebuffed by PCCs

PCCs have rejected the HMI Chief’s call for leniency on shoplifters.

Police and crime commissioners have pushed back on advice from the new HM Chief Inspector for officers to use “discretion” over whether to prosecute desperate shoplifters amid rising poverty levels. 

In a media interview he raised concern that petty crime fuelled by the cost-of-living crisis would pose a challenge for policing. 

Officers will have to balance decisions on protection for struggling businesses with the reality of an already creaking court system that has a huge backlog of cases - and community relations.

He clarified, however, that he was not “giving a carte blanche for people to go shoplifting”, but wanted officers to ensure cases were “dealt with in the best way possible”. 

Mr Cooke said: “I think whenever you see an increase in the cost of living or whenever you see more people dropping into poverty, I think you’ll invariably see a rise in crime.

“And that’s going to be a challenge for policing to deal with.”

“What [officers have] got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issue.

“And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.”

Hampshire PCC Donna Jones told Police Oracle: “Failure to prioritise policing responses to shoplifting across the U.K, has fuelled more crime. 

“Drug addicts are committing more crimes of this type than ever before, with the police often turning a blind-eye, which in turn encourages criminals, most of whom are long-term drug addicts. Senior police officers advocating a ‘softer approach’ is deeply worrying and will in fact incite more crime to be committed," she said. 

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster acknowledged the pressures that the cost of living crisis would put on the public, but maintained that offenders need to be held accountable. 

He said: “Let me be clear, the rule of law requires that offenders must be held to account via the criminal justice system. 

“However, we now face a cost of living financial crisis that will cause poverty, inequality, insecurity and hardship. This will create the circumstances in which crime can, for some, become an attractive and viable option – and the vulnerable can become ever more susceptible to becoming victims of crime and criminal exploitation," he added.

“I am deeply concerned that the government appears not to have given any consideration at all to the impact that rising inflation, rising taxes and the cost of living crisis might have on crime," he said.

There was also a warning that the people expected to call the police are also on the brink of poverty.

USDAW, the union the represents shopworkers, revealed two-thirds of its members were borrowing money to pay bills.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said the cost of living crisis was for the government – not the police – to solve.

He said: “The government has so far stood back as their cost of living crisis rages. If they continue to fail to take the action we are calling for, the government will have simply failed to understand the scale of the challenge faced by millions of workers across the country.”

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse meanwhile accused CI Cooke of “old-fashioned thinking” regarding his comments that the economic shock will lead to an increase in crime. 

He said: “I’m afraid I find it a bit old-fashioned thinking. We first of all believe the law should be blind and police officers should operate without fear or favour in prosecution of the law.

“Secondly it’s not quite right to say that as the economy fluctuates so does crime. We’ve seen economic problems in the past, or not, when crime has risen, or not.”

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