You may have seen and heard ACS in the media over Christmas talking about some changes to the way the police, courts and government are responding to shop theft. There are a couple of separate issues at play here.

Firstly, different police forces are setting policies about how they prioritise their time and resource. Because we now have elected Police and Crime Commissioners, these priorities are now higher profile than they once were, so where forces say they won’t respond to shop theft under £100 in value (like in London) or even higher figures in some other parts of the country, it makes headline news.

The second and related issue exacerbates this problem. Shop thieves taking less than £200-worth of goods are now usually dealt with through an out-of-court disposal, which can mean a fixed penalty notice, which means a ticket and an £80 fine. This in itself is a problem: there’s no deterrent against shop theft if the punishment is less than the incentive. However, the real problem is that some police forces often aren’t following the correct process for issuing these notices.

The guidance here is very clear: repeat offenders, those with drug or alcohol problems, and any offence where violence was used, are not appropriate for a fixed penalty notice. Yet this form of penalty is being used for people in all of these categories. What’s more, according to the last government analysis, about half of fixed penalty notices weren’t even paid, and updated analysis hasn’t been forthcoming which makes one sceptical as to whether this record has improved. There may be a place for out-of-court disposals to tackle some incidents of shop theft, but the system as it’s currently being implemented is not effective by any measure.

Our guidance on how to deal with shop theft is available now and is being re-vamped for a relaunch in March. We’re also surveying retailers to build up a powerful picture of the impact of crime on the sector.

The solutions here are complex, but I hope one point came across clearly in the recent coverage: shop theft is a crime and should be treated as such.