Even The New Police Chief Thinks 'Discretion' Is Now Necessary Around Shoplifting

·3 min read
A new police chief warned that shoplifting rates might increase due to the cost of living crisis (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images)
A new police chief warned that shoplifting rates might increase due to the cost of living crisis (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images)

A new police chief warned that shoplifting rates might increase due to the cost of living crisis (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images)

A new chief of the police watchdog has suggested officers should apply “discretion” if people are caught stealing food out of desperation as the cost of living crisis worsens.

The new chief inspector of constabulary, Andy Cooke, told The Guardian on Wednesday: “I think whenever you see an increase in the cost of living or whenever you see more people dropping into poverty, I think you’ll invariable see a rise in crime.

“And that’s going to be a challenge for policing to deal with.”

Cooke, who is the head of the independent assessor of police forces in England and Wales, continued: “What they’ve got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community and that individual in the way they deal with those issue.

“And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.”

He said he was not “giving a carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting”, but said he wanted officers to make sure cases were “dealt with in the best way possible”.

The poorest UK households are already expected to experience even higher levels of inflation at 10.9% – compared to 9% for the majority of other households, which is already a 40-year high.

Soaring fuel costs and energy bills mean more people are struggling this year, while the Bank of England governor has warned of an “apocalyptic” rise in food prices on the horizon.

However, Cooke, a former chief constable of Merseyside police, was keen to point out that this does not mean people got a free pass for various crimes.

He explained: “There’s always individual cases where you can use your discretion that doesn’t necessarily result in a prosecution but is dealt with in the best way possible. And the shoplifting one’s a good example, isn’t it?”

This conversation about discretion around food has cropped several times since energy bills and national insurance contributions soared at the beginning of April.

Yet, policing minister Kit Malthouse pulled apart Cooke’s claim this week.

He said this was “old-fashion thinking” if the police chief really believed the economic problems would increase crime.

He told LBC radio on Thursday: “We first of all believe the law should be blind and police officers should operate without fear or favour in prosecution of the law.

“Secondly it’s not quite right to say that as the economy fluctuates so does crime. We’ve seen economic problems in the past, or not, when crime has risen, or not.”

He also said it was “absolutely right” that ministers make sure police do not ignore shoplifting, explaining: “In fact I wrote to chief constables just a year or so ago saying they should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes.”

He later told Times Radio: “It still doesn’t mean that we can solve every problem, it’s still going to be hard, it’s going to be tough for families, and what we have to hope is that this storm of inflation will pass quite quickly.”

Concerns about how the UK will cope with access to even the basics – such as heating and eating – are still growing though.

MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis shared his deep concern that the UK will soon plummet into “absolute poverty” on Thursday.

He said: “The public mood is desperate, it’s angry...if we don’t sort this...I worry about civil unrest.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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