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Local Shops Facing An Epidemic Of Crime, Says RGDATA

By Donna Ahern
Local Shops Facing An Epidemic Of Crime, Says RGDATA

A survey of RGDATA members has revealed that over 95% of shop owners have been victims of crime in the last 12 months, while over two third of retailers now feel more vulnerable in their shops than they did in the past.

The owners of over 400 convenience shops, forecourt stores and supermarkets throughout Ireland responded to the RGDATA Crime Survey, which highlights the serious challenges that local community-based retailers are facing in dealing with high levels of crime each day.

The survey reveals that a staggering 93% of respondents have been victims of shoplifting, 40% have suffered due to fraud in their shops, and 25% have been the victims of robberies/burglaries.

While 58% were satisfied with the response from the Gardai to reports of criminal activity in their shops, most respondents felt that the Gardai could do more to follow up with victims of retail crime.

Retailers commented positively on the Garda response for robberies and acts involving direct violence. However, they were critical of the Garda response to reports about shoplifting and drive offs.

Retailers in areas where Garda numbers have been reduced say this is having a direct impact on response times and the deterrent factor for criminals.

Critical Of Court System

Retailers were deeply critical of the court system for failing to impose proper sanctions or deterrents against offenders convicted of retail crimes.

There is a strong sense that people charged with crimes against retailers do not receive an adequate sentence for the offence committed and the impact that it has on the business owner.

Many retailers commented that there is a persistent problem with thefts carried out by minors, fuel drive offs and repeat offenders, with the criminal justice system doing little to deter or educate the offender or restore the victim to the status quo before the crime took place.

RGDATA will be presenting the findings of the research to An Garda Siochana, as well as the Minister for Justice, Simon Harris.

Clear Messages For Gardai And Judiciary

“The RGDATA survey clearly shows that there is an epidemic of crime hitting local community-based retailers in Ireland,” said RGDATA director general, Tara Buckley.

“Local family-owned shops are suffering significantly from hugely elevated levels of theft and a deep frustration that crimes, such as shoplifting and fuel theft, are considered ‘petty’ and seen as acceptable and tolerated. There are clear messages for An Garda Siochana and the judicial system.

"The Gardai need to be responsive to reports of retail crime and not let an impression be created that some crimes are too small to be investigated. There is no such thing as a petty crime for the business owner that has to fund the losses incurred and manage the impact on the mental health and morale of the staff working in the store. The Courts need to be stronger and more consistent in sentencing policies for retail crimes, and in particular for repeat offenders.

“If the Courts are not imposing realistic penalties on those convicted of robbing shops, it is little wonder that the Gardai can seem to have little incentive to investigate and prosecute case, RGDATA is calling for the introduction of specific offences dealing with retail crimes and abuse, harness and violence towards shop owners and retail staff.

"If the current patterns of offending continue, the risk to the personal safety of business owners and their employers and the viability of their businesses with result in many owners simply shutting up shop," she added.

Other Key Findings 

Weapons were used in over a quarter of the crimes, including knives, machetes and swords; wheel braces, hammers and crowbars; firearms; syringes; axes and bottles. 

Shop owners and their staff were also subject to many abusive behaviours by people engaging in criminal activity in their stores including screaming and shouting, spitting, punching and kicking, sexual harassment, and false defamation claims.

Gardai were called in over 92% of cases, and response times ranged from 0-15 minutes - 27%; 15-30 minutes – 30%; 30–60 minutes – 17%; over an hour – 26%. 

Over half of the retailers (58%) were satisfied with the Garda response to the crime and just under 55% have been kept updated on the investigation into the crime at their shop.

In 10% of cases, a retailer’s home and family were threatened during a shop robbery and burglary. 

More than 50% of perpetrators of crime were from the retailer’s locality, while 48% came from outside the local area.

Only 25% of the perpetrators were prosecuted and convicted, with nearly 75% not being pursued by the State. Of those convicted, only 19% received a custodial sentence.

Survey sample: 405 retailers. The survey was conducted between 10 January and 1 February 2023. 

What the retailers said … 

“Shoplifting seems to be becoming an ‘acceptable’ thing that retailers just have to ‘put up with.’ That's not right. We need education in schools, gardaí visiting schools and being more proactive in crime prevention." Retailer in Mayo 

“I'd like to see shoplifting taken more seriously and not considered a petty crime. The law is against the retailer as the onus is on them to prove the crime.” Retailer in Clare 

“Our recent robbery cost us €1,200 plus upset staff - thankfully no one was injured. However, it’s frustrating that we never get back money robbed.  Retailer in Cork city 

“In terms of youth offending, nothing ever happens. We have two different groups of youth who, in my opinion, cause havoc, not just in my stores but in other stores. Most retailers in my area are fed up calling the gardai. The youths abuse staff verbally and have been known to throw items at my staff and nothing happens. Tonight, I had to call the garda again. It is nuts and out of control.”  Retailer in Co Dublin 

“Staff have the right to a safe working environment. We do an honest day’s work and the stress of shoplifters is harmful to our health and wellbeing. We can't catch all of them. We do our best. But small businesses suffer the most. A lot go out of business because of thugs that feel entitled to help themselves. Our area seems to be getting worse by the day and, as Gardai do not even turn up or answer their phone, we are all sitting ducks out here. Thieves know nothing will be done. I understand the staff limitations, but the government has to deal with this issue. Staff go onto social welfare because they can’t deal with the stress, so the government are paying them anyway. So why not introduce stricter punishments and give more power to the Gardai? The mind boggles how thieves get away with everything. It is so sad in this day and age.”  Retailer in Co Dublin 

“Someone needs to start taking it seriously! I’m fed up with the attitudes of some of the Gardai when they do arrive. I just can’t afford to keep writing the losses off!”  Retailer in Co Dublin 

“My interest in a theft ends when it is committed and turned over to Gardai. There is zero chance of any goods either being paid for or damage caused compensated. The only outcome that is certain after a claim is that my insurance premium will go up on renewal.” Retailer in Co Meath 

“There is no deterrent whatsoever to theft. Shoplifters have no fear of the law as they have nothing to lose in going to court. The burden of proof on retailers is so stressful that most either don’t bother reporting the crime or see it as a waste of resources.”  Retailer in Co Kerry 

“Many of those who have been barred out of the shop will threaten staff. To date, it’s just verbally: ‘I'll put you to sleep,’ ‘I'll kill you at home in your bed.’" Retailer in Co Carlow 

 “Even with an armed robbery, there was little follow up. We had to keep calling them. The only time we got follow up was when a young lad hit the panic button for shoplifting. Then the gardai wanted to give us a training lecture on the appropriate times to use the panic button.” Retailer in Co Dublin 

“In most cases we want the perpetrators warned and barred, as most are minors. It feels like an exercise in futility to try to prosecute.”  Retailer in Co Mayo 

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