The police must recognise that store theft and assault seriously affect staff

Two guys are waiting in the car park behind the store. It’s dark and the manager comes out after setting the alarm and locking up.

The blokes come up behind him with a gun, force him back into the store and make him unlock the safe.

A variation could be the timing – maybe it’s early morning, or maybe it’s a knife instead of a gun. Sometimes the store is trading and in front of everyone a gun is pulled on the checkout assistant and the attacker runs off with a fistful of banknotes before anyone realises what’s happened.

It has been known for someone late at night to simply drive a stolen car right through the front window to gain access, but that’s not happened since we stopped selling cigarettes.

It’s a dangerous armed robbery but at least everyone knows where they stand. Head office is alerted, HR swings into action to comfort and counsel the staff, security at the store is reviewed and it’s sometimes reported in the local paper. The manager is in shock but always shrugs it off and gets on with the job – these guys are heroes.

Oh, and the police turn up. They never catch anyone but at least they turn up.

And here’s the amazing thing… it happens almost every week.

But can you believe, a bigger problem for us is the little old lady who steals a packet of cheese or the kids who nick a few sweets? That’s because petty shoplifting has been decriminalised – it’s not really a crime at all, is it? No one suffers, the shop can afford it. It’s victimless. The police aren’t interested and usually don’t turn up.

It’s a bigger problem for us than the armed robbery, because the “little old lady” probably has £60 worth of goods in her bag. She comes in every day and has already been banned from the store but we have no deterrent.

The “kids” are maybe 18 and stealing for drug money or already high on drugs. They come in gangs and the store manager is terrified of them. Maybe they’ll eat a bar of chocolate off the shelf in front of the manager and dare him to do something about it.

If he does he maybe gets attacked or spat at or threatened with a syringe.

Sometimes the manager “arrests” a shoplifter and insists the police turn up. Two hours later they still haven’t arrived and the manager is holding an increasingly agitated shoplifter in his office.

Our staff have to deal with this day after day – in some stores many times every day. More than once a fight has broken out and the police have arrested the store manager on the accusation of the “victim” – the shoplifter. At least armed robberies may happen only once or twice in a manager’s career, but this is every single day.

It costs us millions of pounds in stolen goods. We spend millions on security guards (whose primary job is to protect our staff). Thank God we’ve never had anyone physically injured in an armed robbery, but several of our managers have accumulated an impressive list of injuries over the years from kids and old ladies. We spend millions on cameras but I don’t know why we bother – the tapes have never been used in evidence.

We have a tidal wave of petty shoplifting, hundreds of incidents every day that end in verbal abuse and often violence – but it’s OK because it’s not really a crime is it?

It sounds absurd, but the weekly armed robbery is much less of a problem for us – I think our managers would agree that one armed robbery (soon over with) is better than the daily grind of constant aggravation, taking all the fun out of the job. Somebody please tell the police it’s a crime.

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