Recession ‘is creating shoplifters’

POLICE are arresting more “first-time” shoplifters who are turning to crime to keep their standard of living as the recession bites.

People not known by cops in Hartlepool for thieving are ending up in the cells for swiping goods as the tough financial climate takes hold.

Detective Chief Inspector Jon Green, of Hartlepool Police, said the new criminals are stealing to “maintain a standard of living” they may not now be able to afford due to high inflation and unemployment.

But despite the spate of new faces ending up in the police station, shoplifting is down across the town.

Det Chf Insp Green said: “Nationally shoplifting has increased since the beginning of the recession, with research indicating that there has been an increase in first-time offenders in recent years.

“The price of goods has increased at a higher rate than inflation and as a result we have seen people committing shop thefts to maintain a standard of living. This, added to the fact that we suffer from a small number of habitual shoplifters in the town, means that we have had to work very hard to combat the problem in recent years.

“Some research has shown that first time thieves will steal ‘lifestyle goods’, items which are not necessarily what you might expect shoplifters to take, and there is an indication within Hartlepool that there has been an increase in first-time shoplifters.

“I’m pleased to say though that Hartlepool seems to be bucking the national trend.”

In the last 12 months, Hartlepool has seen a reduction of about 10 per cent in shop thefts and the last three months are said to have been even better statistically.

Police chiefs have put the drop down to the work done by the Safer Hartlepool Partnership, a group of agencies from across the town, under the Hartlepool Mail-backed Respect Hartlepool campaign.

The campaign targets booze-related violence, shoplifting and domestic abuse and has helped crime fall by two per cent overall in the last financial year.

It has seen officers work closely with store staff and security guards to deny known thieves the chance to steal.

Det Chf Insp Green said: “Shops are encouraged to prevent, not detect. In other words, those who they suspect are intent on stealing from them are refused entry to the store, or asked to leave.

“Previously many stores would wait until shoplifters have actually stolen goods before apprehending them and then calling the police. This approach doesn’t make sense and it is not something we encourage, prevention is always the best policy, for obvious reasons.

“But our message to those who may be tempted to shoplift is that you will be caught and you will be prosecuted.”

Police say that at least eight out of 10 shoplifters who are arrested find themselves being sentenced before Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court.

Det Chf Insp Green added: “I expect that figure will increase further still as we move forward.”