Retail NI calls for crackdown after 12% surge in shoplifting
Tougher penalties are needed to deal with shoplifters, a retail chief has said.
It comes after police said there had been a notable increase in shoplifting in businesses across the region - with a 12% rise in Belfast alone.
Police believe the increase in is partly fuelled by soaring levels of drug addiction, with stolen goods being able to be converted into significant amounts of cash.
Reacting to the figures, Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said something had to be done.
"Firstly, the figure isn't surprising. We have been aware for some time there is a growing problem with shoplifting," Mr Roberts added.
"I think people shouldn't forget the impact this has on smaller independent retailers.
"There is the sense that some people think shoplifting is some victimless crime, whereas the reality is it is not.
"Retail NI wants to see an incoming justice minister urgently review the law when it comes to shoplifting. The current policy of a fixed penalty notice of £80 for offenders up to the value of £100 shoplifting is clearly not working."
Mr Roberts believes the problem could be even worse than believed, with under-reporting of the crime being common among many of the retailers that he speaks to.
"I think the real figure is actually higher, given that a lot of these shoplifting cases are not reported," he said.
"A lot of businesses consider it to be too much time having to go to court and that kind of thing. That means staff members are out of the businesses for the day and one of their colleagues has to come in to cover for them. It all mounts up.
"A lot of our members have really upped their game in terms of CCTV.
"Much of this is clearly the work of organised gangs that move from city to city and town to town.
"Aside from the pressure it puts on the business owner and their bottom line, it also puts pressure on staff.
"Many of these staff, when confronting shoplifters, have been assaulted themselves."
Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts urged the public to be vigilant, to avoid stolen and counterfeit goods and to report suspicious items and people.
"The goods people purchase may be dangerous and could pose a health risk," he said.
"I would urge people to be thoughtful around counterfeit goods they're buying.
"It is essential that businesses report crime when it does happen, even if businesses view it as a small loss."