Gangs of Eastern European shoplifters have been monitoring gardaí and private security personnel before launching raids at shops in Cork City when they know they are not around.
The gangs have been able to ascertain at what times uniformed gardaí on regular anti-shoplifting patrols are working.
As a result, gardaí have been forced to change tactics and have drafted in additional plainclothes officers to tackle the gangs in the run-up to Christmas.
Representatives of the city’s business community were told at a meeting in Anglesea Street Garda Station yesterday that gangs were sneaking in behind early-morning delivery personnel and rifling shops before security staff even arrived in the building.
Superintendent Barry McPolin, who is in charge of policing the city centre, said that a dedicated team of plainclothes gardaí had been mobilised a fortnight ago to combat the gangs. This tactic was already proving effective, said Supt McPolin.
The Cork City community safety forum — which is part of the Cork City joint policing committee — heard that members of the eastern European shoplifting gangs were predominantly male.
However, when it comes to native Irish shoplifters, 56.6% of all those caught in the city in the past year were female.
Supt McPolin said that 61% of those caught shoplifting were under 30, while 20% were under 18. One in a hundred shoplifters were under 12 and so can not be legally prosecuted because of their age.
Many shoplifters are serial offenders, Supt McPolin said, with 16 shoplifters linked to 10 or more incidents and four linked to over 20 incidents each.
Supt McPolin said statistics showed that, three years ago, shoplifters were at their most active in the city centre on Wednesday afternoons.
“This has since changed. Saturdays from 1pm to 6pm is the peak time now,” he said.
There has also been a rise in the number of people stealing groceries, which gardaí say in some cases is attributable to the recession and people finding it hard to feed their families.
Thefts of perfumes and cosmetics remain shoplifters’ top targets, while clothing is in second place.
Since the recession began, groceries have moved from fourth to third spot, overtaking the theft of alcohol.
Supt McPolin said another result of the recession was that some stores had reduced the number of their own security personnel, or even dispensed with them altogether.
He maintained that this was “a false economy” and was costing some businesses many multiples of the wages of security staff.
Supt McPolin added that special undercover Garda teams have also been sent into restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in an effort to catch gangs who are stealing expensive smartphones.
Gardaí have urged revellers to take their SIM cards out of these valuable phones and put them into older phones when they go out on the town for the Christmas party season.
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