As shoppers across Northamptonshire count their hard-earned pennies to pay for their annual Christmas splurge, many may be maddened to think that some people are still flouncing into shops and stealing what they like.
There are lots of excuses given for shoplifting: drugs, hunger and poverty being just a few. I recall seeing one court case some years ago in which an homeless man had even stolen a couple of bags of crisps in the hope of a bed for the night in a local cell.
But the fact remains that when goods are stolen from stores, someone has to pay the price.
According to the British Retail Consortium’s figures for 2011, the overall cost of retail crime to this country was £1.4 billion, an increase of 31 per cent on the previous year.
Move the spotlight to Corby and, since April this year there has been a 56.1 per cent rise in shoplifting incidents compared to the same period last year.
This news comes despite the fact that other types of crime, such as anti-social behaviour, have fallen in the town.
But what could be the reason for this strange disparity in figures?
PC Rod Mackenzie, from the Corby Safer Community Team, said: “This figure includes not just the town centre but the whole of the borough of Corby and it reflects what is going on in other towns too.
“The aim we have is to improve on these figures and drive them down really.”
He added: “The figure could be because Corby town centre is becoming more popular.
“If you think about Corby town centre a few years ago, now it is much more popular.
“It could be that it is bringing more shoppers and more shoplifters in. Now we have the new shopping areas and new facilities, it is a different place than a few years ago.”
Northamptonshire Police, Corby Borough Council, town centre retailers and managers have now joined forces to introduce a number of strategies to help in a major crackdown on retail crime, including the introduction of a Community Cop Shop in Corporation Street, which will has opened in the run up to Christmas.
The temporary shop, housed in an empty retail outlet, is designed to provide a base for officers from the Corby Safer Community Team, while they carry out patrols, which have also been stepped up to cope with the busy festive period.
The shop is also there for members of the public to visit if they have any concerns and for certain initiatives to run such as the security marking of mobility scooters and supplying details of forthcoming seminars on women’s safety, which are to be run in and around Corby in the coming months.
Daniel Pickard, Corby’s centre director, said: “Rod wanted to work with us on ways that we could tackle shop-lifting and we work very closely with PCSOs.
“Rod asked us if we could have a community pop-up shop over Christmas so this came out of that discussion.
“It is for all the community and retailers to come in and it is showcasing all the services the police have to offer.”
PC Mackenzie said: “We have what we call Operation Lapland runs and the shop will act as a base for officers on Operation Lapland.
“We escalate high visibility patrols in the run-up to Christmas.”
The Cop Shop also follows the recent launch of the Corby Retail Against Crime group which is aimed at bringing together local traders in a unified approach to stamping out problems such as shoplifting.
PC Mackenzie said: “We have got 40 shops on board in a matter of weeks and we hope we will have more signed up to it.
“It helps to have shops and retailers working together to prevent shop-lifting, anti-social behaviour and other crime with the intention of keeping Corby as safe as possible.
“It allows us to share information about crime trends and how we manage shop lifting cases.”
CCTV is also an important tool in fighting retail crime and in Corby town centre alone there are about 60 cameras. The cameras can help those familiar with repeat offenders to identify who has been responsible for a particular crime.
Mr Pickard explained: “Retailers are linked up through two way radio so they can work properly together.
“With CCTV and the two-way radio systems, we have a system that is linked to the police and my control room here, so everyone is getting the same message at the same time and we can report back more effectively.”
PC Mackenzie said: “When a thief is caught on camera they might get away with it there and then, but we can catch up with them later.
“There is local knowledge and we have links with security officers and the vast majority of the time they will know who they are.”
Penalties for shoplifting can involve fines or, in the case of Corby, being banned from the town centre area.
The high visibility patrols by the police are also supported by the work of security guards in Corby town centre, who carry out plain-clothed operations.
But what do retailers think about the current consequences faced by retail crime offenders?
Lazar Vukovic is a store manager at ToyTown in Corporation Street, Corby, where a gang of suspected shoplifters were recently caught.
He said: “Town centre security do a good job and they will always let us know if someone suspicious is coming into the town, although we didn’t have that many thefts last year, which is good. I think the town does as much as it possibly can but there do need to be tougher rules on shoplifters.
“It is a shame when you see people spending money they have earned while others will come in and steal.
“Some people do get banned from stores or banned from town but something more needs to be done as, if they are banned from Corby, they will only go somewhere else to steal.”