A SHOPLIFTER whose cupboards were bare at home was given food vouchers and details about a local food bank in Carmarthenshire, a police and crime panel heard during a discussion about shoplifting.
Helen Thomas, of the Dyfed-Powys police and crime panel, had asked the force’s police and crime commissioner if shoplifting in the region had experienced a similar increase to the rest of the UK and what steps he was taking personally, or in conjunction with the chief constable, to address the problem.
The commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn, said shoplifting incidents had risen by 24% in Britain, by 31% in Wales, and by 25% in Dyfed-Powys, which comprises Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys. It wasn’t clear which period this covered but the numbers tally with findings from a survey which compared shoplifting incidents in Britain in 2022-23 to the previous 12 months.
Mr Llywelyn said the explanations for the rise included people being more desperate due to cost-of-living pressures, and co-ordinated shoplifting involving serious organised crime.
He said one case that stuck in his mind had taken place in Ammanford. He said the town’s neighbourhood policing team told him it had attended a shoplifting incident at a supermarket. The offender, he said, explained to officers he literally had no food at home.
“They (officers) attended at his home address and the cupboards were bare,” said Mr Llywelyn. “So the response they gave was to give food vouchers and to signpost the individual to the food bank.”
The Plaid Cymru commissioner told the panel that many shoplifters had substance misuse, mental health and housing problems, and that the “traditional catch and convict” justice model would not ultimately break their cycle of offending. He added, though, that he did not wish to devalue the impact of the crime.
Mr Llywelyn introduced an offender diversionary scheme in 2019, which aims to tackle the root causes of low-level offending – such as shoplifting – and thereby reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. The scheme worked with 1,158 offenders between November 2019 and August 2021, with 94% of them completing the required steps.
The panel also heard there were 155 CCTV cameras in 25 towns in the Dyfed-Powys force area which helped police deal with incidents, plus a “mature” automatic number plate recognition system which identified if offenders were from outside the region.
Mr Llywelyn said officers responded to shoplifting on a daily basis and that neighbourhood policing teams were “proactive” in banning certain individuals from town centres, but that he had not sought specific assurances from the force’s chief constable, Richard Lewis, about the crime. He added that Dyfed-Powys Police’s priorities remained domestic assault, rape and serious sexual offending, and the supply and distribution of Class A drugs.
Mr Llywelyn said he had been reassured during a visit to Carmarthen, where a spate of shoplifting had occurred, that officers were engaging with local businesses.
Mrs Thomas – a lay member of the panel – said she had asked the shoplifting question because one of the items pinched in Carmarthen was said to be worth £4,000. She urged Mr Llywelyn to encourage greater police engagement with businesses.
Panel chairman, Ian Roffe, said he had been told at a separate meeting that neighbourhood policing teams were spending much more time outside police stations than inside, which he felt was positive.
Mr Llywelyn told the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the police and crime panel meeting that he recollected the Ammanford incident happening a few years ago. He said he couldn’t comment on whether the individual had received any sort of formal sanction along with the food vouchers.