A HIGH street chain is trialling the deployment of store detectives - plain-clothes security staff who seek out shoplifters covertly - in a bid to tackle rising levels of crime in two of its Barnsley shops.
Wilko on High Street, Wombwell, has become a hotspot for reports of anti-social behaviour and shoplifting in the town, with local police working with the retailer over recent months on ways of deterring would-be offenders.
According to senior operations manager Nick Seaman, speaking at a PACT meeting at Berneslai Homes, Shipcroft Close, the shop has seen 108 incidents of crimes - ranging from violence and theft to abusive language and fraud activities - across the last year.
These peaked with 38 in the firm’s last quarter, including an increase in violence linked to theft, leading the chain to send out store detectives - which currently work in 62 of its 417 shops nationally - to both the Wombwell and Barnsley town centre shops.
“A guard isn’t there to arrest shoplifters, they’re there as a deterrent,” Nick told the meeting.
“But we know that deterrent sometimes isn’t enough because you’ve got repeat offenders coming to stores.
“We’re talking about certain individuals, not gangs of people coming into the store.
“They’ll work around a security guard. In some stores we’ve got four guards that sit across two floors, and what they’ll do is wait for one to go on a break so there are only three there.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game for them.
“A store detective isn’t visual, they’re not there as a deterrent, they’re there to actually catch the offender.”
The decision, Nick said, is one of a ‘back pocket full’ of solutions the retailer is trialling in order to curb thefts.
Residents present at the meeting raised concerns over the layout of the store enticing shoplifters by having high-value items such as perfumes and cosmetics within yards of the entrance.
But this is down to lucrative contracts with suppliers which will buy space in the shop to display their products, which store staff are obliged to comply with.
“It seems a bit strange to people,” said Nick.
“Prime space is right at the front of the store. People say ‘why don’t they just move it’, but that has a bigger impact on commercial space planning.
“Each retailer has its own issues because of the product that you’re selling.
“We’re doing some reviews on our washing powders and liquids, because that’s the one thing that’s not protected and where we get hit.”
The firm is negotiating with its suppliers and has removed certain product lines, including those from beauty company Coty, from its Wombwell shop along with 74 other shops.
Wilko is also looking at updating its CCTV systems, including the capability to automatically file reports with local police, and ‘civil recovery services’ - recovering losses directly from an offender, for example by reducing benefits they receive.
In 2018-19, Nick said Wilko apprehended 26 people - this year it’s stopped 7,500, the highest number of any UK retailer.
Barnsley neighbourhood inspector Rebecca Richardson said: “A few months ago we were made aware that a large proportion of shoplifting offences reported on Wombwell High Street were taking place at the Wilko store.
“The issue was discussed during our regular PACT meetings, and the Police and Crime Commissioner subsequently wrote to Wilko’s head office offering advice and support.
“I want to reassure the community that our dedicated team of neighbourhood officers regularly carry out patrols in Wombwell High Street and work proactively to tackle the issue of shoplifting.”