Grocery stores have become hotspots for crime, including abusive attacks by customers aimed at staffers.
To crackdown on such incidents, Britain’s biggest grocery chain is giving body cameras to its store workers as a way to safeguard them at work, the group’s CEO Ken Murphy said in an Op-Ed published in the Daily Mail Sunday.
The company, which has nearly 3,000 stores peppered around across the U.K., is seeing an uptick in cases of verbal and physical abuse at store workers. In the last year, Murphy said the cases of physical assault were up by a third this year, compared to the same time a year earlier. He described the incidents as “unacceptable” and the workers’ impact as “heartbreaking.”
“I want those who break the law in our stores brought to book,” he said, adding that the body-worn cameras were given to staffers in an effort to “deter offenders.”
The company has been doing its part to curb crime by investing £44 million ($55.56 million) over the last four years to up security measures at Tesco stores.
“Money spent on making sure people are safe at work is always well spent,” he said. “But it should not have to be like this.”
Apart from the company’s own measures, the Tesco boss has called for stricter laws and greater cooperation with the police to prevent such attacks. One way, Murphy suggested, was to align England and Wales with Scotland where assault or abuse against retail workers in a punishable office.
Tesco didn’t immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.
Grocery store crimes: from abuse to shoplifting
Tesco’s Murphy isn’t alone is flagging the rising rate of crime at his grocery stores.
Abuse of retail staffers has doubled now compared to pre-COVID levels, data from trade body British Retail Consortium released earlier this year revealed. In the 2021/22 period, BRC noted over 850 incidents of abuse, assault or other threats towards retail workers—up from 450 per day in 2019/20.
Chris Brook-Carter, chief executive at Retail Trust, a trade charity that helps retail workers, said that workers had become “extremely anxious” and were even quitting jobs due to the growing assaults.
Abuse hasn’t been the only crime plaguing grocery stores in recent times—shoplifting has been another problem for retailers, often coming with a hefty price tag.
Cases of retail theft had climbed 26% across the 10 biggest cities in the U.K., according to BRC data from July. That figure was as high as 68% in some cities, pointing to a sharp increase in shoplifting. Retail crime in the last year cost £1.76 billion ($2.22 billion), BRC found, with retailers spending millions more on preventative measures.
Soaring inflation and Britain’s cost-of-living crisis appear to have contributed to the rise in these crimes through the COVID-19 pandemic, as customers direct their frustration towards retail workers or steal food because they can’t afford them.
Some retail groups have opted for creative ways to engage the police and deter possible crimes within their stores. Last month, the John Lewis Partnership, which owns John Lewis and Waitrose stores in the U.K., said it would serve free hot beverages and discounted food at its stores for police officers to strengthen their relationship with local law-enforcement officials.
“Even just having a police car parked outside can make people think twice about shoplifting from our branches, or becoming aggressive towards our Partners,” the retail group’s head of security Nicki Juniper said, in reference to company employees.
Additionally, John Lewis and Waitrose stores will also increase security signage and CCTV cameras to address retail crimes.