Shoplifters who turn violent when confronted by staff have emerged as one of the biggest concerns in the second annual survey of retail crime costs, published yesterday.
The survey, by the British Retail Consortium, shows nearly half of the physical attacks on staff are the result of challenging customers suspected of theft. By contrast, more obvious sources of violence, such as robberies, account for only 19 per cent ofattacks.
The survey, launched last year as part of a retail trade campaign to halt the mounting costs of crime, found 312,000 staff in retailing were the subject of violence, threats or verbal abuse. That represents about an eighth of the 2.4 million employed in retailing.
Last year, three shop assistants were killed in incidents in stores, giving rise to growing worries about staff safety.
However, the survey shows violence against staff declined by 14 per cent in 1993-94 compared with 1992-93.
An analysis of what triggers it shows that in 49 per cent of cases it is an attempt to prevent theft by customers. The finding needs to be "urgently" addressed by shops, the survey says.
Other causes include "troublemakers" (15 per cent), "drunks or drugged" (9 per cent) and angry customers (8 per cent).
Retail crime is costing shops a sixth of their profits - and means householders are paying an extra £120 a year in shopping bills because of losses by shops and crime prevention measures.
Crime costs the industry £2.15bn plus another £580m on prevention. Spending on prevention rose by 40 per cent by comparison with 1992/93 and is widely credited with successes such as the drop in violence and a 40 per cent fall in losses from robberies and till snatches.
Shops are also mounting more effective measure against high-profile crimes such as ram-raiding.
Firms such as Dixons, which have installed bollards outside shops and reinforced shop-front screens so they can withstand the impact of a 2-ton car travelling at 40mph, yesterday reported that ram-raiding was "significantly down".
Ram-raiding accounts for only 3 per cent of shop burglaries. John Burrows, the consortium's crime initiative director, said its incidence had fallen by about half of one per cent. Dixons said that its own measures had not led to a displacement of the crime to other unprotected shops, adding: "As a crime technique it does seem to be significantly falling."
The survey reported a 256 per cent rise in the number of shoplifting cases. Shoplifting costs rose by 40 per cent.
However, like the 25 per cent increase in thefts by staff, this is thought to be almost wholly attributable to greater accuracy of reporting by stores.
More than 15 million cases of "customer theft" are estimated to have taken place last year, most unreported.
Retailers apprehended more than 807,000 shoplifting suspects but referred only two-thirds of them to the police. Many of the remainder were "let off" because they were very old, very young or mentally ill, or because of the fear of violence.
David Maclean, the Home Office minister responsible for crime prevention, urged shops not to be deterred by the threat of violence from shoplifters. "This is what the police are there to deal with," he added, He also emphasised the achievement of closed-circuit television (CCTV) in city centres in cutting crime.
In Airdrie, in Strathclyde, it had reduced crime by 73 per cent in six months, in Newcastle upon Tyne by 20 per cent, and in King's Lynn, in Norfolk, by more than 90 per cent.
In Liverpool, he added, CCTV had given people the "confidence to wander about and be happy shoppers".
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