Central England Co-op is asking people to be kind to shop staff following a rise in abuse by customers.
The organisation, whose branches include more than a dozen in and around Swindon, says incidents have included knife attacks, verbal abuse, criminal damage and staff needing hospital treatment.
None of the severe incidents highlighted by the Co-op happened in the Swindon area, but its latest research shows an overall 12-month increase of 167 percent for verbal abuse 39 percent for anti-social behaviour, 35 percent for assault and 16 percent for threats.
The retailer also revealed that 312 crimes related directly to covid-19 have been recorded in stores since the start of the pandemic.
The campaign has been launched in an effort to encourage people to treat shop personnel with respect - and to remind abusers that they face prosecution.
Craig Goldie, Loss Prevention Manager, said: “Seeing these incidents, in black and white, is a sad reminder of the terrible abuse and crimes that our colleagues had to face during 2020.
“Our teams have gone above and beyond over the last 12 months to ensure our communities have access to vital food and essentials, only to be greeted with shocking incidents like these.
“We want to send a clear message to anyone who might be thinking of committing a crime at one of our stores - this behaviour will not be tolerated and targeting our stores is not worth the risk.
“We need everyone to be kind and treat our colleagues with care, compassion and respect as they work around the clock for our communities.
"We want people to think long and hard about the person wearing our uniform – they will be someone’s much-loved family member.
“We want people to ask themselves whether they would like their relatives to be confronted by someone in a violent or aggressive way, especially at this uncertain time – the answer is no, and therefore why should anyone who works in retail have to deal with this kind of behaviour?
“Everyone at Central England Co-op is proud to live and work in our local communities – now we need people to work with us to make sure our stores and the people in them are safe for everyone.”
Serious incidents have included:
- A customer in Shepshed threatening a staff member with a wrench after they were refused the sale of an energy drink
- Several incidents in Leicester and Birmingham which saw people making threats, and in some cases shop workers were slashed at with a knife during attempted shoplifting
- In Chesterfield, a staff member was punched in the face after spotting a shoplifter stealing items, and in Birmingham another worker suffered a fractured hip after being attacked by a shoplifter
- In one of the worst incidents, a worker was verbally abused, physically attacked and robbed in the car park of a store in an unprovoked attack
- Multiple threats by customers to cough on sales assistants and ‘give them coronavirus’ and further threats of assault because people have had to queue to enter stores, observe social distancing or cannot obtain a specific product
Recently, to help combat this problem, the retailer rolled out a range of measures including security assistance buttons and using tracking devices in more products to deter would-be thieves.
The Co-op has also been working with other major retailers, unions, industry bodies, police and crime commissioners and over 200 MPs to push the Government to crack down further on those who abuse or attack shop workers via the introduction of tougher penalties such as automatic prison term.
Measures already in place in stores include:
- centrally monitored CCTV system and increased use of security officers and store detectives
- stringent cash controls
- colleague training on how to deal with situations involving violence or aggression
- working with offenders to help them beat their addiction and support their integration back into the community
A trial is also under way of body cameras for workers, which will be rolled out across all stores if successful.