Shoplifting up in Devon and Cornwall as reforms to welfare bite
Welfare reforms could be driving an increase in shoplifting for basic necessities, Devon and Cornwall Police have said.
Theft from shops has risen by 5.2% this year to 7,685 offences, according to figures released by the force, with spikes of 13.2% in Plymouth and 8.6% in Torbay.
It is a situation which has been repeated across the country with shoplifting rising in almost all force areas. Deputy Chief Constable David Zinzan was cautious about linking the increase in offences to the Government's austerity measures.
But he said: "Nationally shoplifting has increased in 34 out of 43 forces and the College of Policing have been approached to look at that at a strategic level.
"Anecdotally, I'm being told we are seeing an increase in shoplifting, not of high value goods, but basic necessities – food, nappies and baby milk – that may or may not be linked to the reforms that have taken place."
Worrying predictions that acquisitive crime could rocket due to the economic recession have largely failed to materialise, with offences like burglary – down 14.1% in the 12 months to September 30 – continuing to fall.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer voiced similar concerns in an video interview with Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg, saying: "We fear there is some increase in crime out there partly caused by the recession and the difficulties families find themselves in."
But he said he wouldn't "run to that excuse" after a rise in crime over the summer months put a targeted 2% cut in offences in jeopardy. "The South West is particularly reliant upon public sector employment, public sector funding and certainly much of the welfare reform agenda.
"Has that had a disproportionate effect on the South West, I am not going to say it, but I hear a lot of commentators say it has. I hear a lot of politicians, a lot of people in local authorities and others, who say it has had a disproportionate effect on the South West."
Concerns have also been raised by Mr Hogg about an increase in crime usually associated with the nighttime economy, such as public order offences, in neighbourhoods.
In his latest blog, Mr Hogg said the force's slide from 4th to 12th in national league tables "coincides with a significant and not to be easily dismissed rise in what is often termed low-end or volume recorded crime".
"Partly this can be attributed to the effects and after-affects of our beautiful summer and the population boom during those months, blended with over-indulgence in alcohol," Mr Hogg said.
"But do these the types of crime really only happen in the areas where people visit on holiday? We are certainly seeing a shift in where these low-end crimes are being committed, away from town centres with pubs and bars to neighbourhoods, into the hearts of our communities, and I want to know why.
"Are we seeing the beginnings of a squeeze on families from the effects of the Government's welfare reform?"
Mr Sawyer said the root causes were being studied but were not yet known. "We are not alone, we are seeing this is other forces throughout the UK," he said. He added: "We do see the public order offences, which may nor may not, and I don't think we will have the evidence of this, being affected by welfare reform, with people out of work, with disputes in the home where times are hard. We do see some public order offences there which fall out onto the streets."
Local policing was reinforced in May 2011 when the force moved to its "blueprint" model to help meet the £50 million savings required by 2015 and the loss of some 400 police officers.
Overall numbers of constables working on response – those who deal with emergencies – were reduced from 1,340 to 776. Some 250 of those were moved into local policing, nearly doubling their number, alongside 350 police community support officers.
Earlier this year, Mr Hogg increased the police's share of council tax bills by 2% without which the force would have been left with just 125 officers on neighbourhood policing to cover communities spread over 4,000 square miles.