IF you saw someone shoplifting, would you make a citizen’s arrest?

Like many people, I’ve witnessed shoplifters - including a group of women in a department store ripping the labels off items of clothing and stuffing them into bags - and I’ve stood by and done nothing about it.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to whip out my phone and make a TikTok video of shoplifters in action but, while retail theft is quite shocking to see, it’s not worth the risk to get involved.

Other than informing shop staff, what exactly are we meant to do? If you try and apprehend a shoplifter they will more than likely resist. And by resist I mean lash out with verbal and physical abuse, and possibly pull out a knife.

Even if a store does manage to detain a shoplifter, how long before the police arrive - if they arrive at all?

Shoplifting has become an epidemic, say retail bosses. The British Retail Consortium says shoplifting levels in 10 major cities has risen by an average of 27per cent - with some cities up by 68per cent.

The BRC’s 2023 Crime Survey put the scale of retail theft at £953 million - despite retailers spending more than £700million on crime prevention. The total cost of retail crime stood at a whopping £1.76 billion for the 12-month period to April.

The survey also revealed that incidents of violence and abuse towards retail staff had almost doubled from pre-pandemic levels to 867 incidents every day in 2021/22.

The retail industry is demanding urgent action. It wants a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a retail worker, with tougher sentences for offenders, which it is hoped would send a clear message that abusive behaviour won’t be tolerated.

The industry is also calling for greater prioritisation of retail crime by police. For one major retailer, the police’s own data shows that they failed to respond to 73per cent of serious retail crimes reported. And 44per cent of retailers in the BRC’s crime survey rated the police response as ‘poor’.

The retail crime wave isn’t cheeky kids nicking the odd can of cider. It is, say retail leaders, largely down to criminal gangs targeting stores to steal products to sell on. Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said organised gangs are “threatening staff with weapons and emptying stores”.

Meanwhile, shop workers face a “torrent of abuse” on a daily basis, even for asking for age verification.

It wasn’t too long ago that retail staff were on the front line of the pandemic as key workers, risking their own health to keep us safe and fed during lockdown. Now they’re being attacked with knives, hammers and syringes. Staff at some supermarkets are having to wear body cameras to boost security. What’s next - bullet-proof vests?

Retail crime has soared since the pandemic. During lockdown my friend’s daughter worked in a major high street store in London, where groups of men regularly came in to steal goods, mainly large amounts of expensive alcohol. The staff were told not to challenge them. It was basically looting, and they were getting away with it.

Last month it was revealed that the Project Pegasus operation is cracking down on shoplifting gangs, with some of Britain’s top retailers paying police to scan CCTV images of suspected thieves through a database. Whether this will be, as it is heralded, a game-changer in tackling retail crime remains to be seen. In the meantime, shop staff are facing violent criminals every day at work.

Some stores are resorting to ‘dummy display packaging’ on shelves. A ‘Click and collect’ system is a solution - but at what cost to the high street? Without the hunter-gatherer freedom to fill baskets and trolleys with handpicked produce, shopping would become a joyless chore, and not worth leaving the house for. Anti-crime measures lessen the appeal of stores which are already declining due to online shopping.

Shoplifting is often shrugged off as a victimless crime against big faceless companies. But it is the men and women on the frontline of these stores that are are, often literally, taking the hit.