Officers should use discretion over shoplifting amid cost of living crisis, police watchdog says

The new chief inspector of constabulary has suggested police officers should use their “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute people stealing goods in order to eat, amid the rising cost of living.

Andy Cooke made the comments as inflation shot up to 9%, a 40-year-high, and as the government faces mounting pressure to alleviate the burden on households.

Rising energy costs and the war in Ukraine have helped fuel the growing cost of living crisis.

The average price of food and non-alcoholic beverages has soared by 6.7 per cent, latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.  The average price of a pint of milk was 51p last month, a rise of around 21 percent from last October’s price of 43p, and last April’s price of 42p. Staple goods in an average shopping basket have seen major price hikes over the past year.

Mr Cooke told The Guardian that petty crime fuelled by the cost of living crisis would pose a challenge for policing.

“I think whenever you see an increase in the cost of living or whenever you see more people dropping into poverty, I think you’ll invariably see a rise in crime,” he told the newspaper, adding: “And that’s going to be a challenge for policing”.

“What they’ve [police] got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issue.

“And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.”

He said he was not giving “a carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting”, but wanted officers to ensure cases were “dealt with in the best way possible”.

Mr Cooke has worked in policing since 1985 including as Chief Constable of Merseyside Police until taking over as HM chief inspector of constabulary from Sir Tom Winsor in April.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted that “the next few months will be tough” but insisted the Treasury was acting to limit the fallout of soaring costs and repeated his promise to act again later this year.

Additional reporting from agencies.

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