Shoplifting is a ‘constant’ problem, says town centre security team

Two members of the Ipswich Central Ranger team out on patrol. Picture: NEIL PERRY

Two members of the Ipswich Central Ranger team out on patrol. Picture: NEIL PERRY - Credit: Archant

Thieves stealing from shops are causing a “constant” problem for town centre police and security teams, it has been revealed.

Ipswich’s town centre rangers, who patrol the town centre on behalf of businesses, have had huge levels of success in tackling the crime, ensuring between £3,000 and £5,000 of stolen goods are returned to stores each month.

But Sophie Alexander, manager of Ipswich Central business improvement district (BID) - for whom the rangers work - said that “probably doesn’t even touch the surface” of the amount of thieving that goes on.

Some offences are carried out by youngsters who rangers say can be easily deterred with a yellow card-style warning that they will be banned from a store if they do it again.

But others are committed by more persistent and premeditated offenders, some of whom are stealing to feed an addiction.

Ipswich Central Street Ranger logo on back of stab vest. Picture: NEIL PERRY

Ipswich Central Street Ranger logo on back of stab vest. Picture: NEIL PERRY - Credit: Archant

Police statistics show there were 66 incidents of shoplifting in the Ipswich central safer neighbourhood team area - which covers the town centre - in October this year, compared with 56 in September and 71 in August.

The majority of those take place in the town centre.

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However there are fears many incidents are not reported and that there will be increased problems during the Christmas shopping season.

Suffolk police have pledged to deal “robustly” with shoplifters, using both high-visibility and covert patrols to thwart thieves in their tracks during December.

The team of four street rangers, who have body-worn cameras at all times, are also increasing their usual 8am to 5pm patrols to cover shops’ extended Christmas opening hours.

However Ms Alexander said: “Shoplifting is constant but I don’t think it’s very obvious to everyday members of the public.

“They don’t see the impact it could have.

“Retail is struggling and shoplifting could have a huge impact in the way people trade or use the area.

“As a monthly average, rangers are involved in about £3,000 to £5,000 of goods being returned to stores - but that probably doesn’t touch the surface of it.

“At Christmas, we’re expecting a rise.

“You’ll find youngsters who will steal and you find you have groups of people who are premeditated - and you have got people have unfortunately got a habit, so steal to feed that.”

In total Ipswich Central helped more than £20,000 of stolen goods be returned to stores between April 2017 and April 2018.

It also issued 250 exclusion warnings in the same period.

How do you tackle shoplifting?

Ms Alexander said the rangers’ preferred way of solving the problem is to work with stores to help them prevent shoplifting in the first place.

Even though the rangers have police accreditation - which gives them limited powers, such as to issue fines - they only have the powers of a citizen’s arrest.

“We try to educate rather than enforce,” said Ms Alexander, who was a street ranger herself between 2007 and 2015.

“It’s not really what the rangers are there to do. We aren’t the police force and we would never want to be.”

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “Police work with town centre shops all year round to reduce the number of shoplifting offences.

“During the run-up to Christmas high-visibility and covert patrols will be used in a bid to disrupt shoplifters, particularly persistent offenders who choose not to change their criminal behaviour.

“Shoplifting offences will be dealt with robustly with all the power available to us.

“Shoplifting is a crime whatever the value of the item stolen and can result in a criminal conviction, which can have a serious impact on someone’s life.”