The Co-op has warned some communities could become “no-go” areas for shops due to soaring levels of retail crime.
The convenience store operator said crime in its outlets had hit record levels, increasing by more than one third over the past year.
There were about 1,000 cases of crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour in its shops every day in the six months to June, the chain said.
But it cited figures showing police did not respond to most of retail crimes.
The Co-op said a Freedom of Information request had shown many police forces did not prioritise retail crime, with, on average, 71% of serious retail crime not responded to by police.
The retailer called for an “urgent change” from the police and “for all forces to target repeat and prolific offenders to reverse the existing environment in many cities where criminal gangs operate, exempt from consequences”.
Co-op Food managing director Matt Hood said retail crime was driven by “repeat and prolific offenders and, organised criminal gangs”. In the worst cases, he said it could even be described as “looting”.
He pointed to “horrific incidents of brazen and violent theft” in stores which left staff feeling “scared and threatened”.
While the Co-op had “invested significantly” in security, he said “we need the police to play their part”.
“Too often, forces fail to respond to desperate calls by our store teams, and criminals are operating in communities without any fear of consequences.”
One Co-op store manager in Leeds, David, said shoplifting had always been a problem but things had “really changed since the pandemic”.
“It feels like these offenders can simply come in and take what they want – they live in our communities and do what they want, they steal your livelihood from you. They come in with bags, sacks or clothing which can conceal hundreds of pounds worth of stock – coffee, meat, spirits.
“They know the police don’t have the resource or, simply can’t attend quickly enough. If a drug addict comes in, it is really intimidating. It is disheartening, shocking and terrifying. It impacts mentally, as well as a real fear of physical harm.
“It isn’t right and shouldn’t be allowed to go on unchecked. They need to be stopped, helped through rehab, or for the police to target those who repeatedly offend to remove them from our communities.”
Zarah, a Co-op store manager in East London, said what was most frightening was when the criminals clambered over the kiosks and just tip the products into their bags.
“I have spent 20 years at Co-op, and it is worse now than ever before,” she said.
“We call the police, and have been told to call ‘101’. It is being normalised, but colleagues are terrified, and their families are worried for them everyday they come into work.”