Retail giant the Co-op is calling for more action to tackle crime in the sector amid a warning it has reached record levels.
At the start of Respect for Shopworkers Week, the Co-op said repeat offenders and criminal gangs were operating “exempt from consequences”.
The firm said its latest data showed that of the near 3,000 occasions this year where specialist security teams detained serious offenders in its stores, the police failed to show up almost four-fifths of the time, leading to a “dangerous pressure cooker” environment that puts store workers and communities at risk.
Matt Hood, Co-op managing director, said: “We are pleased that the serious issue of retail crime, which impacts our communities so dramatically, has been acknowledged, and that police chiefs have committed to attend incidents where the offender is detained.
“It is a welcome and reassuring move, which should complement the £200 million we’ve invested in colleague and store safety.
“But we urgently need to see it in action in our stores, so the desperate calls to the police from my front line colleagues are responded to and the criminals start to realise there are real consequences to their actions.”
The Co-op said the 300,000 incidents so far this year included shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour, and increase of more than 40% on last year.
There have been more than 1,130 physical assaults against store workers, and more than 36,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour and abuse.
The Co-op has highlighted that where serious incidents are prioritised, and clear co-operation with the police exists, it is a solvable issue.
Forces such as Nottinghamshire, Essex and Sussex have, this year, removed 56 prolific offenders off the streets, with a combined 26 years of custodial sentences, said the Co-op.
The shopworkers’ union Usdaw is launching its annual Respect for Shop Workers week on Monday.
General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “These Co-op findings on police responses are extremely worrying and need to be addressed, because there is an epidemic of shoplifting that too often triggers abuse of shopworkers.
“We are concerned that successive Government policies give the impression that theft from shops has effectively been decriminalised.
“Underfunding of the police, with too few uniformed officers patrolling our communities; fixed penalty notices for thefts under £200, leading to too few of these crimes being investigated and prosecuted, and the recent announcement that fewer ‘low-level offenders’ will not be sent to prison.
“Our members are not only in fear of being a victim of crime, they are distressed that too few criminals are being caught and punished. That is why we are jointly calling for a protection of workers law, a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a worker serving the public.”