Retail Crime – Standing Up to the Challenges

Retail Crime – Standing Up to the Challenges
24.07. 2019 Jean McCabe, Willow, Ennis Co. Clare. Picture: Alan Place

Jean McCabe of Retail Excellence tells IF&CR why retail crime is one of the toughest challenges facing Irish retailers, and why we need to tackle it head on – once, and for all.

“The latest CSO Recorded Crime figures have cast a stark light on the challenges facing Irish retailers, revealing a 12% increase in theft and related offences in the final quarter of 2023 alone. This uptick isn’t just a statistic; it’s just confirms what our member see on the ground, that retail crime is escalating at an alarming rate, with nearly half of these incidents happening in stores” writes Jean McCabe.

“These figures do not make for pretty reading and come as no surprise to retailers around the country, who are experiencing first-hand the challenge of protecting their stores, their stock and most importantly, their people. Unfortunately, theft is only one part of the problem. Incidences of anti-social behaviour are not officially recorded at present and often go unreported. Our members relay stories of anti-social behaviour and harassment on a daily basis. One member tells the story of a lady attacking a staff member as she tried to prevent her from stealing who soon after was arrested by Gardai with over 100 previous convictions. She returned to the store 2 hours later. The Gardai are not to blame here… they operate in a system that is broken.

Retail crime takes many forms

“Retail crime takes many forms… from the unsuspecting ‘regular customer’ that completely catches the retailer off guard to the brazen behaviour of a certain cohort of society to the organised crime gangs who sophisticatedly sweep across the country. The feedback from members is there has been a huge surge in ‘criminal gang’ activity across the country so far this year with large scale theft of high-value goods. In some cases, theft is ‘to order’ with online marketplaces acting as the criminals ‘store front’. So how did we get to a place where criminals operate so openly and so fearlessly and what can be done to change it?

Rising tide

“This rising tide of lawlessness comes at a time when the retail sector is already navigating great challenges, from soaring labour costs to insurance issues to the general increasing cost of doing business. For many, especially SME retailers, it feels like ‘death by a thousand cuts’. The vast majority of them do not have the resources on their balance sheets to absorb significant stock loss or indeed any kind of damage as a result of theft / criminal damage. Moreover, the emotional impact on owners, employees and customers of any criminal event can have a hidden lasting impact.

“The retail industry, vital to the economy and largest private sector employer, is at a critical juncture, needing more than just support but a fundamental shift in how retail crime is addressed. In December, Gardai launched operation Táirge. A process upon which retail crime is monitored across the country, data collected, hotspots identified, main culprits identified and a Gardai focus on those main culprits. It applies Pareto’s Principle, 80% of the crime, is caused by 20% of the culprits. A smart strategy for a force under resourced but will it be enough?

Anti-social behaviour

“The levels of retail crime and anti-social behaviour lie within broader societal issues.

What the crime statistics do not include is reports of ‘anti-social behaviour… one of the greatest issues for retailers. Anti-social behaviour on our streets has seen a significant increase post covid. A far greater societal problem underlines the issue.  There is almost an ‘untouchable’ attitude of those who dictate their presence in our towns and our cities. Too often thuggish behaviour is tolerated and goes unchecked. The approach to tackle retail crime has to start on the streets with a zero tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour. These individuals operate without consequence and they move to ‘push’ how much they can get away with on a daily basis.  A zero-tolerance policy towards even minor infractions can deter larger crimes, a principle well-understood but under-applied. This approach demands respect and authority for the Gardaí, allowing them to act decisively without fear of backlash. However, we’re witnessing an era where the act of enforcement & doing their job can lead to consequences for the Gardai, fostering a reluctance to intervene and a justice system with a revolving door that leaves them frustrated.

The ’good citizen’

“We also live in an environment that emboldens those who disregard the law, knowing that the system often penalizes those who dare to uphold it. It’s a culture that stifles the ‘good citizen’ majority, trapped by rule & regulations that seem to serve the fearless few. The criminals can go through life ignoring all rules while the rest of us are ‘stifled’ by them.

“Looking to New York City’s crime-fighting tactics of the ’90s could offer a template. Mayor Giuliani’s tenure saw crime rates plummet, largely credited to the strict policing of even minor offenses—the ‘broken windows’ policing theory. This approach is based on the idea that keeping streets orderly can prevent larger crimes, suggesting that neglect breeds further disorder.

Consistent enforcement

Ireland might take a page from New York’s playbook, embracing strict, consistent enforcement to deter crime before it escalates. A zero-tolerance policy for anti-social behaviour could be the key, giving the Gardaí the authority they need to act without hesitation. A decisive, less tolerant stance on crime, taken seriously and applied effectively, is urgently needed. As retailers and community members, we’re eager to see a firm commitment to these ideals in practice, not just in promises.

“As Simon Harris settles into office, the Taoiseach’s first-day pledged to tackle crime and reclaim safe streets, words that hit home and give hope. But words are just the beginning; retailers are waiting for solid action. There’s an air of cautious optimism to see if real change will follow.

Advocating for society

“Retail Excellence Ireland advocating for a society where rules are respected, enforcement is empowered, and businesses can thrive. It’s not just about protecting shops; it’s about safeguarding our community’s fabric, ensuring a future where integrity and safety aren’t just ideals but realities for everyone.”