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Operation Vulture - Tackling Retail Crime

Operation Vulture is Lancashire Constabulary’s response to shoplifting across the county. The operation will see dedicated officers undertaking hotspot patrolling, increasing their visibility in targeted areas and creating strong partnerships with retailers across the county to better share intelligence, get a deeper understanding of retail crime and identify more offenders.

Shoplifting can not only impact business bottom lines but can also pose a threat to shop staff. Knowing how to prevent and deter shoplifters and keep your businesses/ staff safe during a crime is key.

If you have a shoplifter in your store, report them to Lancashire Police on 101 or online. If they are using or threatening violence, or the crime is in progress, call 999 immediately.

Understanding your risks

As a business owner, manager or indeed staff member, knowing the below can help you better understand the vulnerability level of your business.

  • Your top targeted items.
  • The most vulnerable stock – for example high value goods.
  • Vulnerable times of day, week and year.

Methods people use to shoplift

The most common methods of shoplifting include:

Distraction theft: A group of people will enter the store and distract staff in order to steal.

Price swapping: Changing price tags to pay less.

‘Accidental’ stealing: Stealing goods but claiming it was an accident.

Fake returns: Thieves will select an item in store and take it to the returns desk claiming they’ve lost the receipt.

Hiding merchandise: Goods are hidden in prams, within clothing, handbags or packaging of less expensive goods.

Bagging: Items will be hidden within bags. Metal lined bags can prevent any exit tagging alarm systems.

Staff collusion: Staff and thieves working together to steal.

Staff training

Training can also make sure they know the signs of shoplifting and the methods used.

Ensuring that your staff have a clear understanding of what to do in the event of a shoplifter can also help keep them safe, protect your business and can increase the chances of the shoplifter being caught.

How to deter a shoplifter

Below are a few methods you can implement to deter shoplifters in your shop.

Customer greeters: By greeting genuine shoppers, not only does this provide a positive impression of your store, it also deters potential shoplifters. An offender is less likely to shoplift if they sense that they are to be seen and noticed by staff.

Security staff: Consider employing full time security or part time security during the vulnerable times of the day/week.

Disruption techniques: If an individual is displaying odd or suspicious behaviour, employees should be encouraged to approach and offer assistance. Other disruption tactics include tidying/rearranging stocks and aisles nearby the potential shoplifter.

Signage: Make it clear that shoplifting will not be tolerated and incidents will be reported to the police.

Install CCTV: CCTV covering entrances and exits are prime places for capturing images of people entering and leaving the store. Additionally, CCTV should cover high value and known targeted stock.

Working in partnership: If available in your area, why not consider joining a local retail crime initiative such as the Business Improvement District, Shopwatch or the Business Crime Reduction Partnership. If you are part of a scheme you can and join the schemes’ retail radio link, share CCTV and work with the police and other stores to deter shoplifters.

Electronic article surveillance tags (EAS): Consider attaching EAS tags to high value and known targeted stock. These tags are known to be a deterrent for potential shoplifters.

Store layout: Store layout can be designed to prevent blind spots and can be a contributing factor to reducing shoplifting.

Want to know more about keeping your business safe?

How to spot a shoplifter

A shoplifter is not always creeping round like in the movies. They can sometimes be trying to keep a low profile and avoiding attention. They might look anxious or flushed, looking around the shop constantly to see if they are being watched.

Their clothing might also give them away. For example, if they are wearing heavy, baggy clothing in warm weather this might indicate they are using this baggy clothing to hide stolen items. If the person has a large bag this might also be an indication.

What can you do if you have a shoplifter in your store?

If you have seen someone take goods without paying for them, politely ask them to replace items in a calm and neutral tone, ideally with another member of staff. Always be sure they've taken something before you speak to them – and only if you feel it's safe to do so.

Once you are sure they are a shoplifter, report them to the police on 101 or online. If they are using or threatening violence, or the crime is in progress, call 999 immediately.

If you have any information regarding a shoplifting crime which has been committed, you can also report this to our non-emergency line (101) or online here.

Always make sure any interactions with the suspected shoplifter take place in a safe area, covered by CCTV if possible. Try and keep your distance and have options for an escape route in case the interaction becomes violent.

There are three main drivers for violence against shopworkers are:

  • Challenging a suspected shoplifter,
  • Challenging a customer for age related ID and
  • Customers who are intoxicated.

Be prepared for when it might happen. Always make the intervention from a safe place covered by CCTV if possible. Try and keep your distance and have options for an escape route should the situation escalate.

If you have a CCTV system in place, we recommend joining our digital Neighbourhood Watch scheme, Nice2Share. Find out more about Nice2Share here.

Additional support

We know that for some residents in Lancashire, stealing may feel like their only choice. Difficult economic circumstances, along with many other situations could lead someone to commit a retail crime offence.

For these people, we want to offer relevant advice and support, and signpost residents to partner agencies who can help them through difficult circumstances.

For example, Lancashire County Council have a cost of living guide on their website which is available HERE. This page can help you discover additional benefits you might be entitled to, help you get into work, support with energy bills and much more. They also have a dedicated support area for businesses.

All offenders will be dealt with appropriately and while tackling crime we must also address the underlying problems which may lead to these negative behaviours.