POLICE officers are usually responsible for catching thieves – but a group of bobbies took on the role of criminal themselves during an operation to highlight the dangers of pickpocketing.
South Yorkshire Police carried out the operation at the Morrisons supermarket in Catcliffe, targeting unsuspecting shoppers by ‘stealing’ their handbags and purses.
Four undercover officers identified customers who were placing their handbags in trolleys and leaving them unattended while they selected their shopping.
Two of the officers managed to remove handbags and lifted purses out of unzipped shopping bags hung on the trolleys. In total, 49 bags and purses were removed in just three hours.
After committing the sneaky ‘thefts’, the officers identified themselves to shoppers, handed back purses and handbags, and gave advice on how to keep personal possessions safe.
Chf Insp Gwyn Thomas, from South Yorkshire Police’s community safety department, said the operation was part of the force’s drive to tackle retail crime and that it also involved four uniformed officers.
Many of the customers admitted knowing they should take better care of their property, he added.
“We’re working with retailers to try to combat the recent rise in retail crime,” Chf Insp Thomas said.
“One of our tactics is to make the public aware that they can assist by being more vigilant and being on their guard for possible pick-pockets when out and about shopping.”
He continued: “We’re also linking up with staff in shops to teach them how they can try to avoid falling victim to retail crime by following some simple guidance - looking out for suspicious behaviour, ensuring CCTV is working, avoiding putting displays near open doors and trying to have more staff on duty during busy periods.
“Retail crime impacts on businesses which in turn affects communities. This is why it is one of our priority crime types to combat.”