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Controversy as Police force Retailers to Send CCTV Footage of Shoplifting

CCTV systems are crucial in capturing shoplifters in the act in shops but in Wiltshire there has been controversy over the Police force’s new proposals. Wiltshire Police have been defending their pilot scheme to force retailers to their send CCTV footage to them in the fight against shoplifters. Due to start on 1st November the shop owners will need to provide CCTV video evidence and send it at their expense to investigators if they have been a victim of shoplifting. Under these plans an officer will no longer need to attend the premises.

Shops will now not receive advice from a police officer in person but over the phone instead. A disc of the footage will need to be sent to Wiltshire Police HQ’s crime management team and instead a trained investigator will discuss the shoplifting incident with the shopkeeper over the phone.

The controversial new plans have been criticised by traders and have led to fears that retail crime will increase in Swindon as a result. As reported by The Sun[1], Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said: “If people know the police are not available to investigate, these crimes will rise” and a member of the Swindon Chamber of Commerce said: “This could encourage crime to increase and may affect insurance and income”.

‘Reducing bureaucracy’

Wiltshire Police have praised the new scheme claiming that it would help cut costs and increase arrests. Quoted in an article by The Mirror[2], Superintendent Charlie Armstrong said: “The Home Secretary has rightly observed there is still wasteful spending in policing, so Wiltshire Police are working hard to reduce the bureaucracy facing our frontline officers and staff.

“One way in which we can do this is to remove the need for our employees to attend in person to collect CCTV footage from different premises when there is no offender on the scene and the crime or incident is in the past”.

Further to this a spokesman contended that receiving CCTV footage remotely directly from the retail business will help ensure that CCTV evidence is processed quickly and increase turnaround times.

Policing in times of austerity

Due to the continuing imposition of austerity from the majority Conservative government police budgets have been slashed. Therefore it is no surprise that this scheme is a method by which Wiltshire Police can free up front-line Police to be available elsewhere. With budgets becoming tighter Wiltshire Police staffing numbers have already seen a 13% drop between 2010 and 2014. This means to maintain a visible presence on the frontline more ‘backroom’ staff have been cut, which in reality leaves officers less time to deal with less serious crimes such as shoplifting. Although overall frontline policing numbers have decreased since 2010 they have increased in terms of percentage of the total number of staff so there has been less of a steep decline in this area of staffing[3].

This story is a part of a wider theme of belt-tightening in England and Wales. The nations’ police workforce has seen a reduction of 15% of which frontline officers have been cut by 11%. According to the NewStatesman[4] during this time police recorded crime was shown to have risen by some 3%. This is despite a reported decline in crime since 1995 recorded by the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW). Government figures from the CSEW have stated that crime has remained on the decline since 2010. However, according to the article in the NewStatesman, the CSEW does not show the full picture. It does not count murder, sexual offences or shoplifting as crime, for instance. Therefore it makes it difficult to argue that the cutting of police budgets has helped crime to continue to reduce.

“Crime is not so much down, as changing”

What is certain is that technology will play a progressively more prominent role in the battle against crime as fraud, cyber-crime and electronic surveillance become more common while traditional forms of crime drop. CCTV in the UK will continue to hold an important role in ensuring that where the law is broken sufficient evidence can be accumulated to prevent further crime occurring in society.






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