Police say a 40 per cent increase in shoplifting in North Lanarkshire is due to “destitute shoplifting” where people are stealing basic essentials to feed themselves and their families.
At a community safety meeting held by North Lanarkshire Council at the Scottish Fire and Rescue headquarters in Cambuslang, Superintendent Rob Hay explained that officers are now trying to offer support to people in these cases rather than see them convicted.
He said: “You join the police to lock up bad people, not poor people.”
The report stated that destitute shoplifting is not committed to fund drug addiction or part of organised crime. Mothers have stolen baby powder and nappies for their babies.
Since September 3 police have had the power to issue a recorded warning, which will trigger the referrals process and put that person in touch with suitable agencies such as council social workers. Recipients of recorded police warnings are not charged with criminal offences.
By referring people to the appropriate support they can be prevented from being sucked into a cycle of offending.
These recorded warnings allow the incident to be resolved at the scene, with the relevant agencies alerted and no need to detain the suspect in custody.
Supt Hay added: “They will be on our radar and contacted within 24 hours. Sometimes it is people who have worked all of their lives who suddenly find themselves without employment. People do not know always about the help available and are sometimes too proud to ask for support.”
He stressed that this did not mean police were going to be soft on habitual criminals.
“We treat each incident on a case by case basis. This system cannot be used to pull the wool over the eyes of the officers on the scene,” he added.
Cumbernauld East councillor Gillian Fannan asked if this approach would increase pressure on other services such as social work and food banks.
Supt Hay said: “Obviously I cannot speak on behalf of another service, but social work would end up being involved in these cases anyway.
“There are indications that by front-loading the support which would be offered it works out to be more cost effective.”
There were 523 shoplifting cases in North Lanarkshire between April and June this year, compared to 372 in the same period last year.