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Supermarkets to financially support government’s facial recognition initiatives to combat shoplifting

Britain’s biggest retailers have agreed to fund a new facial recognition police operation to target shoplifters.

According to the Times of London, the new crime-busting initiative— named Operation Pegasus—is part of government efforts to ensure police show zero tolerance to shop thefts, the newspaper reports.

In return, police forces will run each CCTV image of shoplifting offences provided by retailers through the Police National Database, which includes facial recognition technology.

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The new partnership has reportedly been described as a game-changer by police chiefs because it will give them a national picture of where shoplifting gangs are operating and the shops they are targeting.

Organised Crime

Ministers met police chiefs and representatives from leading supermarkets and retailers on Thursday to hammer out plans to target shoplifters.

The huge spike in shoplifting has been driven by organised crime groups who deploy individuals to steal higher-value items from supermarkets, such as steaks and bottles of alcohol that they sell directly to market owners, pubs, corner shops, and through other means.

The new police project will be set up to identify and target organised crime gangs. The Times said on Monday that Pegasus will receive £600,000 from ten supermarkets and retailers, including John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Next.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, has tasked police leaders with drawing up a target list of prolific shoplifters to create a national shoplifting database that can be circulated to retailers and police forces across the country.

He has also asked police forces to dedicate a proportion of officers that are funded by the government’s new antisocial behaviour hotspot policing initiative to patrol areas that report high levels of shoplifting.

Mr. Philp has asked police to report back within six to eight weeks with a “zero-tolerance plan to target shoplifting,” arguing that shoplifting creates a sense of lawlessness.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Chris Philp arrives at the Treasury office in central London on Sept. 7, 2022. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Chris Philp arrives at the Treasury office in central London on Sept. 7, 2022. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

Game Changer

At Thursday’s meeting at the Home Office—also reportedly attended by minister for small businesses Kevin Hollinrake—three cohorts of those who shoplift were identified.

According to the Times, attendees were told there are the opportunists, who are often younger and less predictable or prolific.

Adult offenders who are driven by an addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling and tend to be prolific, and individuals who are working for organised gangs pose the biggest threat to retailers as they target the highest value and biggest volume of goods.

Katy Bourne, the police and crime commissioner for Sussex, told the newspaper all those at the meeting recognised that it’s the organised criminality that is really “hitting them hard” and that’s the bit they really want police to deal with.

She added, “

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