'I'm too scared to work' - Ipswich retail security staff on facing 'fearless' shop thieves
A group of Ipswich retail security staff have spoken out about their daily battle with 'fearless' thieves - and the growing threat of being harmed for doing their jobs.
One of the four, a store detective at out-of-town retail parks, handed in his notice this month, saying: "I'm not afraid to admit I'm too scared to work in this industry.
"I've been forced to quit because of personal safety."
With shoplifting up 12% across Suffolk in five years, the guards claim to be filling a public sector vacuum, with one saying: "Everywhere has problems, but from our point of view, Ipswich has never been as bad. I'm always expecting trouble."
Another said safety was becoming "more and more a factor", with some offenders equipped with knives and needles.
"If we need help, we can call each other on linked radios, but if we call police, we get no answer. We've even had them turn the call off on us," he added.
The group described Ipswich Central's team of Street Rangers as "worth their weight in gold", with one adding: "If not for them, we'd be up the creek. Our job would be more or less impossible.
"They don't work Sundays, so Sundays are bad news for us."
Another said punishments did little to deter thieves, adding: "Consider someone who commits 20 offences before being caught; presents to court over and over again, gets two weeks in prison, and then goes straight back to it."
All believe police are struggling to meet demand with resources, and called for better protection.
"They're so underfunded, they either can't or don't attend, so the crimes have gone up and so has the threat of violence," said one.
Another, who reported responding to at least 10 'shouts' a day, said: "You get to know other retailers. Not all report to police - although we try to encourage it.
"You get your group of regulars. About 10 or 20 are at it pretty regularly to feed a drug habit.
"The other problem is organised groups working together to smash the town. They're hitting stores daily. They've intimidated staff and refused to leave stores.
"They'll steal anything they can get their hands on. They find a way around anything we do to try to protect our stock."
One security worker claimed he was asked by police to do more deterrent work and less reporting, while another said: "Retailers report a reduction in inventory as 'shrinkage'. I'd estimate at least half of it walks out of the door.
"With Christmas coming, it's going to get twice as bad.
"I've been assaulted and spat on. I've had threats of violence, which I'm not really bothered by, until I have to walk home.
"I'm getting closer to quitting if something isn't done soon."
The store detective who handed in his notice said he suffered a breakdown after being slashed across the hand by a shoplifter he asked to put back a stolen speaker.
"In the last month, I've been attacked after work by two people I've detained in the past," he said.
"I told the police and heard nothing.
"Three weeks later, I detained another gentleman and found 13 used needles in his bag.
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"He was arrested and released. The police called and told me to leave work early because he'd threatened to come and get me. They said they couldn't arrest him based on a threat.
"Two days later, I saw him in another store. When I called 999 and they told me to ask him to leave, it was the final straw.
"It's only a matter of time before someone's seriously hurt.
"My five minute walk home takes 40 minutes because I circle to make sure I'm not followed.
"The protections emergency service personnel get should be rolled out to security staff.
"The catch 22 is that I can only detain when someone crosses the threshold, but from that point, and anywhere outside, I'm uninsured.
"If I'm deterring, I'm doing the right thing by police, but if I'm not detaining, I don't get paid.
"I've been spat at, pushed and nearly punched, and I'm restricted as to what I can do.
"Some of them are fearless. If it's not bolted down, they'll take it. They come in and steal a pair of headphones, walk out and walk back in wearing them, looking to steal a power cable.
"I've walked down Norwich Road and been offered stolen items with labels still on them.
"I take each incident personally. They all live with me.
"If the police ever come to collect CCTV, we submit it. They ask if we can burn the footage to a disc; we say yes; I write a witness statement; and no one comes.
"When they do turn up, they're very supportive and equally frustrated because they know people are going to be released to do it again."
The four security staff were keen to point out that they understood police had faced increased demand in recent years.
"We're not bad-mouthing the police, but they're not helping the problem," said one.
"A consistent police presence would make a difference. There's only so much we can do."
Superintendent Kerry Cutler said: "We would always encourage victims to report and talk to us about their issues, and I would be happy to look at the individual crimes incidents that are made reference to.
"We work closely with retail premises, and our Design Out Crime Officers provide crime prevention advice and guidance to shop owners, which we encourage them to take on board. We would urge all businesses to take whatever measures they practically can to prevent crime.
"Additionally, the Ipswich Central Street Rangers are integral to the Business Improvement District and provide reassurance to the public. They speak regularly with shops and businesses about how to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour.
"There is also an extensive CCTV camera network run by Ipswich Borough Council that is an effective resource for identifying suspects, witnesses, and vehicles used in crimes.
"Periodically, operations are carried out to try to target retail crime through high-visibility and covert patrols in a bid to disrupt shoplifters, particularly persistent offenders who choose not to change their criminal behaviour.
"Shoplifting offences will be dealt with the powers available to us. Shoplifting is a crime, whatever the value of the item, and can result in a criminal conviction, which can have a serious impact on someone's life."
"We recently held an engagement event with people in the night time economy, advising them of the importance of keeping themselves self, and more of these events are planned for the future.
"The constabulary, as is the case nationwide, is facing increased demand, stretched resources and, in recent years, had financial pressures as we look to keep our communities safe, and prevent and investigate.
"We always deploy our resources based upon the risk presented to our communities and the harm caused. We will always endeavour to respond effectively, prioritising crime in progress or danger to people."