Thefts from shops, now at 15-year high, linked to cost-of-living crisis

Garda believe the current economic conditions are contributing to a hybrid crime scene

Shop thefts are up 43 per cent in the six-month period since the end of April, according to the latest figures available from the Garda. Photograph: iStock

Surging thefts from shops, now at a 15-year high, and an increase in drunkenness and public order crimes are likely the product of the Republic’s two-tier economy in which some people are struggling for the basics while others have plenty of disposal income for socialising, Garda officers believe.

Garda sources told The Irish Times that because of the current economic conditions, with rising inflation but near full rates of employment, different sectors of society were experiencing very varied economic fortunes. As a result, a hybrid crime scene had emerged. Poverty-related crimes such as thefts were increasing, as was crime that usually spikes during periods of prosperity, including assaults which are now up by one-third compared with last year.

“We are definitely seeing the night-time economy continuing to get busier since the pandemic and that hasn’t really stopped because [of the cost-of-living crisis] this year,” said one Garda officer. “So we’re seeing more of what you might call those ‘messy’ crimes that happen when people are on the town and they’re drunk, maybe doing cocaine. But at the same time, we’ve more people stealing from shops because they are really being squeezed by the cost of everything going up.”

Thefts up 39% since last year, CSO crime figures showOpens in new window ]

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris recently linked the increase in thefts to the cost-of-living crisis. He has previously said other types of offending – such as assaults, criminal damage and public order – increase in times of prosperity as the night-time economy booms.

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While Mr Harris said just over a month ago thefts from shops were at a five-year high, they have increased further in recent weeks and were now higher than at any time in the past 15 years, up 43 per cent in the six-month period since the end of April, according to the latest figures available from the Garda. Thefts from shops were now 17 per cent higher than the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. Other forms of property theft increased by 60 per cent in that same six-month period to the end of November.

An appraisal of current crime trends, contained in Mr Harris’s latest report to the Policing Authority, shows while burglary rates were still 40 per cent lower than the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, they had begun to trend upwards. In the 12 months to the end of October, residential burglaries increased by 15 per cent and burglaries of non-residential properties were up by 25 per cent.

“It is expected that reported burglary, particularly residential burglary, will increase over the coming months in accordance with seasonal patterns,” Mr Harris said of the period to the end of next April when burglaries are usually higher.

‘People coming from offices are the ones we are catching shoplifting’Opens in new window ]

Mr Harris’s report to the Policing Authority also shows crimes that plummeted during periods of lockdown, mainly because pubs and clubs were closed, were now increasing again. Crimes against the person, which include assaults, were up by 17 per cent in the 12 months to the end of last month and were now 7 per cent higher than in 2019. This appears to confirm concerns that violence on the streets was worsening across the Republic, especially in Dublin.

Assaults in public places were up by one-third in the past 12 months and assaults in private residences were up by 6 per cent. Criminal damage, which is also often associated with excess drink and drug consumption in times of high disposable incomes, increased by 13 per cent in the year to October. Similarly, overall public order crime was up by 11 per cent in the same period, with incidents of “drunkenness” increasing by 22 per cent.

However, the number of sexual crimes reported to the Garda over the past 12 months was 7 per cent lower than the previous corresponding period, after increasing in 2021 and generally trending higher to record levels since 2018.

Mr Harris said a range of factors had influenced recorded sexual offence trends in recent years. This included an increased willingness on the part of victims to come forward and better crime recording, which meant more crimes were being captured in official data. Due to those factors, it was not possible to say definitively that the increase in reported sexual crimes over the past five years was “solely due to an increased level of incidents occurring”.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times