Police have been told to scan every shoplifting CCTV image reported to them through facial recognition technology as figures reveal some forces are failing to identify suspects in as many as two thirds of cases.
Only one in seven shoplifters were charged over the past year across England and Wales, while 54 per cent of cases were closed with no suspect identified and other evidential difficulties led to a further 20 per cent of cases collapsing.
Over the same period, shoplifting offences have soared by a quarter, costing retailers an estimated £1 billion.
To reverse the large proportion of shoplifting cases that are going unsolved, Chris Philp, the crime and policing minister, said he wanted it to become standard practice for the police to run faces and any other identifiable details through the police national database in search of a match.
Philp has tasked Amanda Blakeman, chief constable of North Wales who also leads on retail crime for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to draw up a nationwide strategy for how all 43 police forces in England and Wales should treat shoplifting.
He has asked her to report back with a “zero-tolerance” shoplifting plan within five weeks.
Philp said: “I believe all police forces should have a zero-tolerance approach to shoplifting. That means actively patrolling in areas where it is a problem and it means always, always, retrieving CCTV and running it through the police national database to seek a facial recognition match.
“Perpetrators should always be pursued, if we don’t do that there is a risk that it simply escalates out of control and an atmosphere of disorder develops.” He has also asked police forces to dedicate a proportion of officers who are funded by the government’s new antisocial behaviour hotspot policing initiative to patrol areas that report high levels of shoplifting.
Plans for a nationwide strategy to fight shoplifting are also designed to combat the inconsistency in performances across the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
Surrey police closed 68 per cent of shoplifting cases over the past year without a suspect being identified, the highest rate of all forces. Bedfordshire, Northumbria, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Sussex closed about two thirds of shoplifting cases without identifying a suspect.
Even when a suspect was identified and retailers supported a prosecution, cases collapsed in as many as a fifth of cases due to evidential issues.
Police sources said they hoped the greater use of facial recognition and CCTV footage would help forces overcome evidential difficulties.
There are also huge discrepancies in the proportion of shoplifting cases that lead to a suspect being charged. Surrey police charged someone in just 4.5 per cent of cases whereas Cumbria police recorded a rate of 24 per cent.
Civil liberty groups have warned against the use of facial recognition. A letter in Saturday’s Times which included signatures from Liberty, the Prison Reform Trust and Big Brother Watch warns: “The expansion of facial recognition technology in supermarkets poses a dangerous threat to privacy.”
(Source: The Times)