Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime

As part of ‘A New Met for London’ the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has renewed its commitment to tackling business and retail crime in collaboration with London BIDs and the business community. Operation Retail, the Metropolitan Police’s streamlined process to tackle business crime effectively, was announced on 18 October 2023 at the Marriott Hotel Marble Arch, with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley outlining the collaborative approach to reduce crime, build trust and raise standards.

  • Confused about what it all means for reporting shoplifting?
  • Which incidents will the police attend?
  • Will it be investigated if the police do not attend?
  • Will shoplifters be prosecuted if what was stolen is worth less than £200?

These are all questions Marble Arch BID is asked regularly by our retailer members, and we set out the answers to these questions below.

In October 2023, the UK’s 43 police forces launched the National Retail Crime Action Plan in response to the rising incidents of retail theft. The key points of the plan included:

  • Use of facial recognition technology on CCTV and digital images to identify and prosecute offenders, especially prolific or potentially dangerous individuals.
  • Prioritisation of police attendance at retail crime scenes involving violence, repeat offenders, or where prompt evidence collection is necessary.
  • Comprehensive pursuit of all leads to identify offenders, secure evidence, recover property, and interview witnesses.
  • Clear guidelines for police response to retail crime reports and practical advice for retailers on securing evidence to aid investigations.
  • Focus on targeting habitual offenders who cause distress to communities and retailers, with assessment through a threat, harm, and risk model.

Retail surveys indicate that only 8% to 16% of crimes were reported by retailers to police, hindering effective action against business crime. Shoplifting accounts for 5% of total crime recorded by the MPS, with 80% of business crime committed by 20% of prolific offenders.

Since its launch in November 2023, London’s Operation Retail has led to an increase of 28% in reported shoplifting offences from November 2023 to February 2024 compared to the same period the previous year, with 57% of all shoplifting offences (10,565 out of 18,684) suitable for and dealt with under Operation Retail. Sanctioned Detections (this is where the offender has been identified by police and receives formal action taken against them such as a charge or caution) increased by 82% (from 544 to 991) over the first three months of Operation Retail.
Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime
Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime

Which incidents will police attend?

If violence is or has been used or threatened, it is essential that 999 is called and details of the violence, or threat of violence, plus whether the offender is still on site is made clear to the police operator.

It is important that the caller explains very clearly what violence or threats are being used and if the shoplifter remains on the premises.

These are the incidents that police aim to attend.

Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime

For all other shoplifting reports

Operation Retail focuses on straightforward shoplifting offences where the offender has left the premises without using violence or threats.

Contact police as usual by calling 101 or reporting online at met.police.uk.

Retailers should provide full victim details, including contact numbers and email addresses, as evidence packs will be sent via email.The Police Telephone Digital Investigation Unit (TDIU) will send an Operation Retail pack to the provided email address.

Businesses can upload CCTV and statements via a secure email link for police assessment and investigation. The crime will be sent to a local police officer who will assess the evidence and investigate as necessary, including the use of facial recognition.

If a business only wants police to be aware of the crime, but don’t want a police investigation to take place, they can simply not return the evidence. This doesn’t enable police to investigate further, however a crime report will be recorded for the location, allowing police to better understand and focus resource on areas where high levels of crime are reported.

For help with uploading evidence, updates on a crime, or advice, contact the MPS Victim Focus Desk (VFD) on 0207 484 6700, open seven days a week, 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime
Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime

Common Myths

It is commonly perceived that thefts under the value of £200 will not prosecuted or dealt with by police. This is untrue for the Metropolitan Police, with these myths leading to retailers deciding not to report offences to the police.

The police are especially interested in persistent shoplifters, where there is a cumulative impact upon the retailer from a recurrent shoplifter, and when they have caused an ongoing ASB impact, as well as distress to staff and customers in those stores.

For straightforward shoplifting offences, if the offender has left the scene and there was no violence used or threatened, police will not attend, however this will be triaged through to Operation Retail and phone/email contact from the police made to the victim via the Police Telephone Digital Investigation Unit.

Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime

Future Developments

Police are listening to feedback from both retailers and police officers to learn what works well and what can be improved upon.

The Metropolitan Police have collaborated with BIDs, Business Crime Reduction Partnerships and retailer head offices to provide more training for retailers.

The Government are planning legislation for assaulting a retail worker to be made a new, standalone criminal offence – more details can be found here.

We will continue to monitor developments and update this web page accordingly. We always welcome feeback from our retailer members.
Operation Retail: Tackling business and retail crime