Police take to streets after shoplifting rise

The Gazette joined officers on an undercover operation to target shoplifters in Barnstaple during the Christmas shopping period.

POLICE have been taking to the streets of Barnstaple in an undercover operation to catch shoplifters during the busy Christmas period.

Since April 1, 2012, there have been 182 reported shoplifting offences, a seven per cent increase on last year’s figures.

The operation was designed to target thieves as well as provide reassurance to shop workers.

Speaking to the Gazette, one High Street shop manager who asked not to be named, said he believed his store lost around one per cent of its turnover to shoplifters.

“We’ve probably seen an increase in the last six months, but before we do our annual stock-take it is hard to tell,” he said.

Recent reports have suggested the current economic climate has contributed to the rise in offences, but Sergeant Paul Jones, neighbourhood beat team leader for Barnstaple, said he could not say this was the case.

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He said: “There is no evidence to say this time of austerity is the cause; all we can say is there is a small increase at the moment.

“We have an 80 per cent detection rate for shoplifting offences reported to us in Barnstaple town centre.”

It is evident from the undercover operation that the police also work closely with the CCTV centre, which has access to their radios and those of around 60 shops in the town.

PC Richard Preston, who was among five plain clothes officers taking part in last week’s undercover operation, said CCTV back-up can often prevent offenders from gaining vital minutes in their getaway.

“The CCTV centre can contact us directly on our radios if they spot a known offender or any suspicious behaviour,” he said. “They can help us to locate the offender quickly.”

A spokesman for the CCTV centre said on average he would see around 10 to15 known shoplifters a day on the various cameras throughout the town.

He said: “So far this year we have logged 139 shoplifting incidents that we have been involved with.

“Generally we’re reliant on a store calling in, and when we hear it over the radio we can then find the person matching the description to help the police catch them.”

On the afternoon he was joined by the Gazette, PC Preston arrested a 45-year-old man on suspicion on shoplifting who was later charged with the offence to appear in court early next year.

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