THEFTS from a shopping centre have been slashed by a quarter during a town-wide operation to target serial thieves.
It is two-and-a-half years since Respect Hartlepool was launched to target three major areas of crime: shoplifting, drink-fuelled violence, and domestic abuse.
The Hartlepool-Mail backed initiative has been hailed a success by police chiefs, and this week we are taking a look at each of the categories to see how officers have been tackling the most persistent criminals.
Since August 2010, the rate of shoplifting in the town has been cut by 4.6 per cent, and the number of thefts from shops in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre has fallen by 25.2 per cent.
Police have put it down to the way the centre managers, shop staff and security staff have been working alongside police to stop thieves before they have chance to steal.
Temporary Superintendent Jon Green, of Hartlepool Police, said: “We have a number of shoplifting targets who we keep an eye on constantly and disrupt their behaviour.
“We also try to divert these people into the drug and alcohol services, as it is common that shoplifters have problems that need correcting.
“These are repeat offenders who are responsible for the majority of the crime.
“We have also worked with stores and security staff so they know who to look out for and who to not let in their shop.
“This is about prevention and making sure people are not given the opportunity to steal and to force them to change their behaviour.
“I believe this has had a great impact on the town centre, particularly Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, and is a big positive.”
There were 757 incidents of shoplifting in Hartlepool during 2011, compared to 722 incidents reported last year.
Middleton Grange had 115 thefts in 2011, but that dropped to 86 last year.
Mark Rycraft, Middleton Grange Centre manager, said: “We have seen a big difference and we are ejecting a lot of people from the centre.
“We are doing that because we will not tolerate any public disorder and want to make sure people feel safe and are safe in the centre.
“We need to stop shoplifting more than ever as we need to preserve retailers’ profits during the current times, and theft causes stress to managers and staff when they see things being stolen as they value their jobs.
“We can’t do it without the police and they can’t do it without us.
“It has been a joint effort and Cleveland Police have been brilliant with us.”
l LATER this week, find out how police have been tackling domestic abuse and drink-fuelled violence during Respect Hartlepool.