Chief sparks a storm with theft revelations
SEVERE budget cuts means police can no longer respond to most shoplifting incidents, one of Britain’s top officers has admitted.
Winton Keenen, Northumbria Police chief constable, was accused of sending the “wrong message” to crimianls after he made the startling confession to a council meeting in Newcastle.
After Newcastle City Council’s deputy leader Joyce McCarty asked what reassurances the chief constable could give to small businesses in the city that crimes affecting them would still be investigated, he confirmed the force has changed its policy.
Officers will only respond to shoplifting calls if there is still an offender at the scene to arrest, if there is CCTV footage, or if the victim is judged to be vulnerable.
Northumbria Police has endured the biggest financial cuts of any force in England and Wales since 2010, and has lost more than 900 officers in that time.
Chief Constable Keenen said: “Being truthful with you, if shoplifting takes place and there is no CCTV and no vulnerability, usually we won’t send an officer.”
He added: “If there is an offender at the scene, we will attend and arrest.”
Figures show that crime has skyrocketed by 86% since 2010, in which time the force has seen its funding slashed by £136m.
And while the chief constable says that much of that increase can be attributed to better recording practices and increased confidence to report crimes, he added that crime is indeed on the rise - particularly burglary and theft.
He asked councillors on Wednesday night: “When you walk out of this door, do you feel like crime is 86% worse than it was? Of course it isn’t.”
Overall, the force’s workforce has been cut by 27% since 2010, including 244 PCSOs and 679 other staff.
Newcastle Lib Dem opposition leader Anita Lower said that the new policy on shoplifting sent “the wrong message to criminals”.
She said: “I do think that they have to be realistic about what they can do.
“However, although they may not have a criminal to arrest or evidence to collect, it is still reassuring for staff who have been intimidated or worried to have police support.
“While it may be that they aren’t going to solve it, you do want to know that someone is listening.
“It is not about turning up in a screaming panda car, but there needs to be some sort of liaison between the police and the victim.
“I also think it sends the wrong message to criminals, if they think they can get out of a shop without being collared.
“It may not be a big crime to the police, but to the victim it is a big thing.”