WITH 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police officers patrolling our streets compared to 2015, town centres and retailers are paying the price for savage front line cuts. Shoplifting is spiralling out of control and offenders are relentlessly and mercilessly targeting their local stores, which are being overwhelmed by these daily incursions.

Durham is not immune to this trend with 4,835 shoplifting offences recorded across County Durham and Darlington in 2022-23. This figure, shocking as it is, hides the devastating impact this crime has on retail workers. They are the forgotten shop theft victims, whose voice is rarely heard.

Unlike emergency service workers, their service to their customers was often taken for granted during the Covid lockdown. Shop assistants and security guards didn’t have a choice to work from home, and so, leaving their families behind, they reported for work often only to be verbally or physically abused and sometimes even spat at when they tried to enforce stringent Covid restrictions.

Retail workers are not only victims of crime: they are also victims of anti-social behaviour, as they endure harassment, alarm and distress on a daily basis. 

Unlike many victims, they can’t avoid the place where they were previously victimised because this place is their workplace. 

The impact of these crimes on workers’ mental health and wellbeing cannot be overlooked.


It is extremely concerning that abuse and attacks on shop workers has doubled since 2019. Even if a shoplifting case gets to court, it’s unlikely the offender will receive a custodial sentence, even if the offender has committed dozens of crimes.

Shoplifting is certainly not a petty crime. It’s estimated that as much as one third of all acquisitive crime (stealing) is related to illegal drug use. Many offenders steal from shops to support their addictions and, more recently, in response to the cost-of-living crisis.

No one should feel unsafe going into work. The growing pattern of shoplifting, violence and anti-social behaviour across our retail stores is a concern for every Police and Crime Commissioner in the country. That’s why this week we have been discussing the advantages of implementing advanced surveillance systems such as facial recognition technology and CCTV cameras to aid the identification and apprehension of shoplifters with the Home Office.  This sophisticated technology can also help prevent crime as the risk of being caught is increased.

Preventing retail crime relies on effective neighbourhood policing. Unfortunately, Durham is one of only 15 forces that has not recouped the number of officers it lost through austerity cuts. 

I have been calling on the current government and the shadow government to give a commitment to return all police numbers back to 2010 levels and to bridge the ever-increasing gap between rich forces and poor forces through the introduction of a fairer funding formula.

If we could replace these officers, we could increase town centre patrols, expand our neighbourhood teams, and take tough action against anti-social behaviour, drug use and drug dealing.

It’s time to call time on retail crime. That is why I am convening a force-wide Safer Business Task Group to tackle this issue head on. By adopting a zero tolerance approach and responding effectively to offenders whilst addressing the underlying cause of their behaviour, we can strive to deliver a safer and securer operating environment for both retail workers and their employers.


  • Joy Allen is the Labour Police & Crime Commissioner for Durham Constabulary

The Northern Echo: Councillor Joy Allen