The number of attacks on shop staff has more than trebled in a year prompting police chiefs and business bosses to hold a meeting aimed at tackling the problem.
Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne convened the meeting after hearing about the rise physical assaults, including spitting, as well as verbal abuse and intimidation.
Mrs Bourne was told that the “horrific” increase in violence and abuse had been exacerbated by the covid-19 coronavirus crisis measures which had led to shortages and social distancing measures.
The meeting yesterday (Tuesday 30 June) was told that one big retail chain had recorded more than 7,000 crimes in just the past three months. These included assaults on their staff and security.
Many of those crimes were believed to have been driven by homelessness or linked to drug dealing.
Sussex Police recorded 483 reports of violence against shop staff in the year to the end of March – up 32 per cent – or by 156 reports – compare with the year before. Offences are believed to be under-reported to the police.
The Co-op, Tesco and Sainsbury’s sent representatives to the meeting which involved members of the Safer Sussex Business Partnership. Smaller local shops were also represented along with business crime reduction partnerships and the contractor Mitie.
The new chief constable Jo Shiner attended the partnership, which Mrs Bourne set up in February, as did business crime experts and they looked at practical steps including better use of security camera footage.
Danny Molloy, Tesco’s area manager for Sussex and Kent, said: “We have seen an increase in colleagues assaulted and spat at recently.
“The prolific offenders causing problems for us before have just got worse.
“As lockdown loosens, we are also expecting to see an increase in shoplifting and with that will come even more violence and threatening behaviour.
“As a local retailer, we will be looking to share our data more widely and report more incidents to the police who I have been reassured will take action.”
Most of the attacks were said to be carried out by “prolific offenders who use threatening and sometimes violent behaviour if challenged by staff”.
Mrs Bourne said yesterday: “These figures are shocking so I’m pleased that today we started to identify better ways of sharing data and creating a clearer communication channel between local businesses and the police.
“This pandemic has shown how important our local businesses and their staff are to our communities.
“Intimidation, verbal abuse and violence of any kind against shopworkers cannot be tolerated.
“We have developed a unique partnership, recognising that business crime matters and making best use of each other’s expertise.
“I want to assure all business owners and staff that their concerns are being listened to and will be robustly and positively acted upon.
“Sussex Police is expanding, meaning we now have more boots on the ground gathering vital intelligence, working with partners and targeting prolific offenders.”
Chief Constable Shiner pledged her support and said: “It is absolutely unacceptable that members of our community are being targeted in this way, just for carrying out their job.
“Although the increase in the reporting of violence does suggest that people feel more comfortable talking to the police, it also reflects that some individuals think this sort of criminal behaviour is appropriate and they could not be more wrong.
“During the covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how intrinsic retail workers are to our way of life.
“Treating them like this is not how we show our thanks and we are committed to bringing this sort of crime down. No one deserves to go to work in fear of violence.”