Police switch focus from drugs to shoplifting and scooters

SHOPLIFTING crimes in the Avon and Somerset police area have doubled over the past two years, according to the latest data.

Almost 14,000 cases were reported in South Gloucestershire, Bristol, B&NES, North Somerset and Somerset last month.

The force is now trialling new ways of making reporting crime easier for shop workers, amid rising rates across the country.

The force recorded 13,880 shoplifting crimes in October, compared with 6,720 in October 2021.

Chief constable Sarah Crew was grilled about what her force is doing to tackle the growing issue during a performance and accountability board on November 14.

Mark Shelford, the police and crime commissioner, said: “The public feel that shoplifting is not taken seriously by the police, as do some people in the retail trade. Even though some instances of shoplifting might be of low value, the cumulative effect is significant.”

Ms Crew said: “We’re currently trialling an innovative QR code reporting system, that enables instant easier access for staff in retail premises to access our reporting systems much more efficiently. We’ve trialled that in Bristol and it’s been successful, and we’re rolling it out to Bath now and then across the area.”

The same meeting heard that as the police focus on issues such as shoplifting, burglary and electric scooters, arrests for drug crimes have plummeted.

The force was facing increasing demand through emergency calls, which meant fewer officers were available for proactive policing, such as disrupting organised crime groups and drug trafficking. The force is also moving more into “non-crime areas”.

Mr Shelford told Ms Crew: “There are two measures both going in the wrong direction: recorded crime and disruptions. This suggests that the actions you’ve been taking to improve are either not working, or not working consistently.”

Since May last year, a specialist team at Avon & Somerset Police charged 39 offenders, who have received nearly 100 years in custody between them for drugs and firearms offences, while 24 offenders are still awaiting sentencing. 

The force seized drugs with a total street value of over £2.5 million. Over the last 12 months officers also disrupted 50 county lines.

Ms Crew said: “For drug trafficking crimes, we do look out of kilter with the national picture.

“The time available for proactive policing has been eroded by an increase in reactive demands — whether that’s rising 999 calls, increases in the complexity of crime and demand, or policing moving into other areas of non-crime.

“Our Operation Remedy team has needed to expand to tackle a wider array of very understandable priorities, such as burglary and retail theft.

“At the moment we’re working on the anti-social and criminal use of electric scooters for instance. So the capability to be proactive on drugs has shrunk.”

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service