Shoplifters have decimated an Aberdeen store’s supplies of coffee forcing staff to put the jars under lock and key.
The thefts contributed to a spike in shoplifting incidents in Mastrick and Northfield, prompting police to launch a crackdown – which has achieved results.
Police said the Spar shop on Byron Square, Northfield, now requires customers to ask for coffee at the till.
Officers said there were 20 shoplifting reports for Mastrick and Northfield in June and the same in July – and their zero-tolerance approach during the operation has seen that figure fall to seven in the first 29 days of August.
As part of the crackdown, officers stepped up high-visibility patrols and the number of visits to shops and pubs to several times a day.
When incidents were reported, they used a new data system to match CCTV images to regular offenders and they have also been able to reduce paperwork time thanks to a roll-out of new mobile phones which allow them to file crime reports on scene.
PC Richard Arton said: “We drew up a table of when offences happened and found 10% take place between 9am and noon and most happen in the afternoon and evening.
“We also noticed most shoplifting incidents are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. All this data helps us target our patrols and respond appropriately.”
According to police, shoplifters often favour particular high-value portable items such as candles, perfume and cheese, but that might be changing.
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In extreme cases, gangs will put hundreds of pounds of goods in a trolley, pay for it and then take the receipt back inside to fake proof that a trolley containing identical goods was purchased. Police call this “mirroring”.
PC Arnot said: “We are also seeing now that they are starting to vary it and fill a whole basket up with various items.
“The difficulty faced by many of the traders is that only one person might be working there at once so, if they are busy replacing stock, someone might come in, take something and be out in seconds.
“Our job is to be a friendly point of contact for shop staff, to make it easy for them to tell us things to reduce future incidents.
“The operation has worked. Shop staff are telling us they are seeing offenders at the entrance loitering around, judging whether they should enter the shop when they are banned and then walking off.”
He added: “Our new mobile phones, which we got two weeks ago, have been a big help. It means we can take statements on the spot and share them instantly with colleagues.
“We can also carry out identity checks instantly thanks to the phones – and that helps us see straight away whether a suspect is a first-time offender or someone with a significant record.”
PC David Padgham said police were “encouraged” by the figures. He said: “Often, removing one prolific offender can reduce reports.
“We also know of cases where people move on from it. I remember one guy who gave up shoplifting and said ‘my daughter is getting older and is starting to understand what I am doing. I need to stop’.”
One shop worker, who asked not to be named, said: “The police did the same thing around Christmas and it worked brilliantly. The regular visits by police seem to have put shoplifters off. It means me and my staff can get on with our day job rather than having to file shoplifting reports all the time.”
Police also praised the work of food providers such as Community Food Initiatives North East and said they hoped the launch of a food pantry in the area – providing subsidised meals – would help further reduce shoplifting.
“From their perspective, if they can make it through a day without having to go through the stress of risking their liberty through shoplifting and get food so they can cook a nice meal for their family, it will help them immensely,” said PC Arnot.