Retail theft initiative

A retail theft initiative is a multi-agency approach to deal with retail crime offenders (‘shoplifters’). It is a form of restorative justice.

The first scheme was set up in Milton Keynes in 1994, and it launched in Banbury, Oxfordshire, in March 2004. The retail theft initiative aims to:

  • Reduce the reoffending rate for retail theft, especially among young people.
  • Reduce the amount of time that officers spend dealing with retail theft offenders.

How does the initiative work?

Offenders are given a chance to see the broader consequences of their actions and to apologise to the victim of their offence. They are also offered support and advice to help to prevent them from reoffending.

Currently, all those who steal from shops in Milton Keynes are placed on the retail theft initiative subject to previous criminal history. In Banbury, a juvenile must meet the following criteria:

  • They must admit the offence.
  • They must have no previous convictions or cautions.
  • The value of the stolen goods must be under £200.
  • No violence was involved in the crime.
  • They must agree to take part in the initiative.

When placed onto the initiative, an offender is released to return to a police station on a weekday evening. The offender is interviewed in-depth by a police officer to find out why and how the offence was committed.

If the offender is aged between 10 (the age of criminal responsibility) and 17, a parent or guardian is present at the interview. If the offender is an adult, they can bring along a friend as long as they are not a co-offender. If the offender is under 10 years of age, they can still be accepted onto the scheme and given the support that they need.

At the end of the interview, the officer decides which options of the initiative would be most appropriate to the offender. Once the offender formally agrees to attend the initiative, they can proceed to the next stage.

Retail theft initiative options

Diversion options

Diversion options are voluntary parts of the scheme designed to help the offender to stop offending. It is an opportunity for offenders to reflect on where their behaviour is leading them – possibly towards a life of crime and prison.

Meeting with the store manager

This option gives the offender a chance to apologise to the victim - for example, a store manager. It enables the offender to see that retail crime is not a ‘victimless crime’. The manager explains how shop theft affects the store and its staff.

Youth service

This is a session run by a youth worker without their parents or guardians being present. It allows the offender and the youth worker to discuss attitudes, consequences and moral issues. It is a chance to encourage the young person’s interests and hobbies, and pass on details about local groups and activities.

Careers/Connexions service

Careers services, such as Connexions, give career help and advice to anyone who wants it.

Protective behaviours

This is a one-to-one session which aims to equip the young person with the tools to resist peer pressure, bullying and similar matters. Parents or carers can attend.

Prison service group session

This is a group session aimed at offenders aged 12 to 17. It is run by prison officers from a Young Offenders Institute. If anyone younger or older than this age group needs similar input, the retail theft initiative can provide a one-to-one session. With the aid of video, the young offender is given an insight into the realities of youth custody and the problems that offenders may face after their release.

Drugs worker

Drugs workers help to support and give advice to people of any age if drugs have become a problem in their lives.

Reprimand, final warning or caution

At the end of the initiative, young offenders over the age of 10 receive an official police reprimand or final warning. Adult offenders will receive an official police caution. These are official documents signed and retained at the police station. Details of them are kept on the Police National Computer.

A meeting provides a chance to review the initiative for the individual. This makes sure that they have understood everything and have received all of the help and support that they need to stop them reoffending. They are also told what the consequences of reoffending will be, and are sometimes put in touch with another appropriate agency to help them.