Thursday, 2 August 2012

Secrets of the Shoplifters

In a desperate bid to try and avoid continuous Olympic coverage, I found myself watching 'Secrets of the Shoplifters' on Channel 4 the other night. On closer inspection it seems to be part of a follow-up series, with more to come no doubt.

Once again I take my hat off to the producers of programmes like this who unerringly manage to come up with 'characters' such as the self-styled 'robocop' who appears to have dedicated his life to a personal crusade against shoplifters in York. I know that's what police officers are supposed to be engaged in, but I have to say I found this guy just a tad obsessive and was left wondering how he got along with colleagues, especially as he described with some glee having caught one of them.

I couldn't help but notice that North Yorkshire police have decided to weigh down their response officers with yet more kit in the form of cctv, a move that I suspect is as much about monitoring their behaviour as it is for evidence-gathering. The other surprise for me was how the role of store detective has changed considerably with them becoming extremely 'hands-on' and indeed wielding their own sets of handcuffs. Clearly it would seem to help in this line of work if you are built like a rugby prop forward and if the aim of the producers was to create the impression of a war going on, I think they certainly succeeded.

Like all probation officers with some years under their belts, I've written quite a few reports on 'Theft from Shop' over the years and the common theme is as often as not drugs. Watching this programme I couldn't help but offer a running commentary on the likely candidates proving positive for opiates when they got to the police station, and what a sorry bunch many were. But as the programme highlighted, quite a few get fixed penalty notices underlining the fact that shoplifting is a widespread practice across all social classes and age groups and the reasons are many and varied. I know this from personal experience because my dad was a 'bus pass bandit'

Some years ago I found myself in a branch of Woolworths with my other half and dad. Having split up to look for various items, she whispered in my ear that she was sure dad was putting stuff in his pockets. Sure enough batteries, packets of screws, tubes of glue and various other items were being scooped-up by him and secreted not-too-discretely about his person. Somewhat bemused, I decided to make a big issue of it at the till and made him turf out everything in the hope that embarrassment would sort the problem out. 

To be honest I'm not sure it ever did. He found the whole thing very funny and proceeded to tell me that he was banned from every major store in the town where he lived. It seems that his guile and cunning knew no bounds in avoiding arrest and prosecution. He took some pride in describing how he would in turn feign imbecility or lack of english by lapsing into Hindi or Swahili which he had learnt as a British officer in the Indian Army. The sad conclusion I eventually came to was that this was his idea of excitement when other avenues had receded due to a degree of incapacity brought on by the effect of strokes.                 

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