The Co-op is using undercover security guards to patrol aisles on the lookout for thieves, as retailers battle a shoplifting epidemic.
Alongside normal uniformed security guards, the chain on Sunday confirmed it had stepped up the use of “covert” security staff to catch shoplifters in the act.
The undercover staff, who are supplied by contractor Mitie, are specially trained to confront and hold thieves until police officers get to the scene.
Despite this, in four-fifths of examples where someone is caught police still do not bother to turn up, Co-op claimed.
The extraordinary measures to combat thievery emerge just weeks after Co-op separately revealed it had been forced to resort to “dummy”, display-only packaging for products in some stores because so many were being stolen.
Empty plastic boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates and jars of Kenco coffee are among those which customers now have to bring to the till first, where they are exchanged for the real thing.
It comes as top retailers have accused police of effectively decriminalising shoplifting.
Across the UK, Co-op says instances of crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour in its stores have jumped 35pc higher year-on-year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded in the first six months of 2023.
Yet police forces failed to respond to 71pc of serious retail crimes reported, the supermarket chain said.
Rival supermarket Tesco has resorted to getting staff to wear body-cameras to help catch shoppers who assault them, while Lord Rose, the chairman of Asda, warned last week theft was “just not seen as a crime anymore”.
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, has ordered police forces to investigate every theft as part of a crackdown but her instruction faced pushback from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC). It accused her of meddling in forces’ operational independence.
Matt Hood, managing director of food at Co-op, said: “The rise in shop looting and retail crime, perpetuated by repeat, prolific offenders and organised criminal gangs is becoming one of the most significant issues facing UK communities.
“This isn’t a victimless crime, as my store colleagues who have been verbally abused and had knives and syringes pulled on them can vouch for, but it is seemingly a consequence-less crime.
“The Home Office and NPCC say every crime will be investigated, which are great words, but actions are better and, frankly, yet to be seen, as our stores report serious crimes every single day, but in 71pc of cases, no police turn up.
“Co-op has invested over £200m to try and keep our colleagues and stores safe, so I am increasingly frustrated by how our efforts are not being matched by those who have the power to enforce consequences.”
In August, Ms Braverman warned it was “unacceptable” that crimes such as shoplifting, criminal damage and phone or car theft were being treated as “less important”.
The NPCC has insisted forces must retain responsibility “for making difficult decisions around how best to respond to the breadth of priorities of local communities”, amid limited resources.
However, Chief Constable Scott Chilton, the NPCC’s lead for investigations, has pledged forces will make better use of technology such as video doorbells and dashcams to help solve more crimes.
He said it was “important to remember that each and every case is different and has different complexities”, but added: “There are opportunities to identify offenders that we never had before, and that is something to be very positive about.”