Shopping: John Lewis staff use bodycams to deter thieves


Media caption,

This suspected shoplifter got extremely abusive with a shop security guard

By Jordan Davies & Tony Brown

BBC News

Body worn cameras are being used by a high street shop to curb rising levels of theft and violence in its stores.

John Lewis has given its staff bodycams and “de-escalation” training to diffuse tensions when shoppers react angrily.

The Welsh Retail Consortium (WRC) said violence towards staff in Cardiff between 2021 and 2022 had risen by 30% while shoplifting had spiked by 68%.

The Home Office said it had invested a record amount into policing but retailers have demanded tougher laws.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which works with the WRC representing retailers said thefts across the sector in England and Wales rose by 26% in 2022.

In March, police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland recorded almost 33,000 incidents of shoplifting.

Meanwhile in Pembrokeshire, one shop has invested £15,000 in anti-theft security.

Alcohol, perfumes, cosmetics and meat were among the most stolen items, with prolific repeat offenders, organised gangs and the cost of living blamed.

Adrian Palmer who works in the Cardiff branch of John Lewis.

He said interactions were becoming increasingly violent: “This happens fairly often, more often than you would like. I wouldn’t say daily, but we’re probably not far off.”

Image caption,

Adrian Palmer who works at a store in Cardiff says thieves are becoming more brazen

He said shoplifters had also become more brazen and he once witnessed a man take a bin bag out of his pocket, fill it with goods and attempt to walk out.

“I was lucky enough that we also had a PCSO in branch at the time, so we detained him,” he said.

Head of security Nicki Juniper said John Lewis was “investing heavily in training” for security and shop staff.

“Should they want to take part in some de-escalation training they’d be able to handle an incident should it arise,” she said.

They are also doing training known as “love bombing”, which uses good customer service to deter abuse.

“It has proven very successful in reducing levels of theft,” she said, but added prolific offenders needed to face consequences.

Image caption,

Head of security Nicki Juniper says new techniques are proving successful

The Association of Convenience Stores said the problem was UK-wide, with 1.1 million thefts in their stores in the past year.

Chief executive James Lowman said that was “probably an underestimate” and thefts were at “highest level it’s ever been”.

“Around 70% of staff say they’ve been verbally abused on the job, which is an extraordinary high number but sadly not a great surprise,” he said.

He added he suspected repeat offenders were also committing crime elsewhere but said he could see “how the police and retailers see that as just too big a problem to tackle”.

But he said focusing on these individuals “might bring real benefits to our sector, but perhaps hopefully to the wider community”.

Image caption,

Fiona Malone from Tenby Stores says every time someone steals, it takes away from what she can give her children

Fiona Malone, from Tenby Stores in Pembrokeshire, said she did not think the police took enough notice of thefts under £50 – but these added up over time.

The shop has invested £15,000 in new cameras and security technology this year, including headsets.

“Although some of the things stolen are things that are nice to have, such as wine and vapes, I think people are struggling,” she said.

“I think it is something the government really need to think about.”

She said police have a difficult job and have needed to prioritise high-value crimes but due to a lack of consequence, the thieves keep coming back.

“Losing money through theft is a huge challenge for us because we are an independent business and what people don’t understand is everything that gets stolen comes out of things I can give to my children.”

Image caption,

Sara Jones, head of the WRC, says the losses businesses incur will start to hit the customers soon

Sara Jones, head of the WRC said the losses were costing shops billions of pounds a year across UK but added that effect may soon be felt by customers.

She said the WRC planned to write to South Wales Police about how to deal with retail crime in Cardiff.

She said: “At the moment only 7% of retail crime gets prosecuted and we need to see that figure significantly increase.

“We understand the challenges and we are also asking the Home Office to look at some of the legislation that’s in place like the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

“We want that to be bolstered, better reporting around the data in that, which will hopefully help our retailers in the long run.”

She said retailers wanted to prioritise retail crime while protecting staff and customers.

“Over 40% of colleagues fear for their safety when they’re in the workplace and that is a concern for all of us,” she said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Shoplifting strikes at the heart of local communities and we expect police forces to take this seriously – deterring this kind of crime but also catching more offenders.”

“We have delivered more police officers in England and Wales than ever before and invested a record of up to £17.6bn in 2023/24 into policing, including for more visible patrols in our neighbourhoods and better security such as CCTV and alarm systems.”

South Wales Police has been asked to comment.

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