RETAILERS are trying to fight back against an epidemic of shoplifting in Wells by sharing photos and videos of suspects on a WhatsApp group for the business community.
The CCTV images are used to alert other traders in the city to the presence of shoplifters, and by making it known that they are circulating them, act as a deterrent to the shoplifters themselves.
Wells Chamber of Commerce is leading efforts to counter the crimewave, and is taking advice from the police about the possibility of putting the images on Facebook.
“Shoplifting is prolific and it has got worse in the past two months,” said Louis Agabani, Chair of the Chamber of Commerce. “Shoplifters are becoming more confident and more daring.”
He said that the current economic pressures were driving the increase in crime, and that every shop in the city centre was a potential target. The value of items known to have been stolen range from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds.
The WhatsApp group now has about 100 members, ranging from small independents to larger businesses such as Tesco, as well as a representative of the market traders. The Chamber is working with retailers on expanding the group further, and is looking into whether the police can join it as well to have rapid access to data on incidents and the individuals involved.
Plain-clothed police officers have been patrolling the city centre recently to try to catch offenders red-handed, and discussions are ongoing about whether this can happen more often.
The Chamber is also investigating the possibility of the city self-funding a PCSO for the Wells beat.
“We want to stamp this out,” said Louis. “We are collecting and sharing the photos, and are discussing further measures with the police.”
The group also shares information on other issues such as the use of fake £50 notes, he added.
Traders who are not already in the group but would like to join should contact Wells Chamber of Commerce by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
A poster has been designed that retailers can display to let shoplifters know that they are being monitored, and the issue is likely to be raised at the city council meeting on Thursday, July 27.
PC Dan Williams of Wells Neighbourhood Police Team said: “We have been made aware of an increase in shop theft. It saddens me to hear that businesses in Wells are suffering from this kind of crime.
“Wells Neighbourhood Police Team are working hard with local retailers to strengthen our relationship, increase the reporting of thefts and discuss ways to prevent shoplifting.
“We are increasing our efforts targeting our most prolific offenders causing harm to the area.”