Supermarket Robocop

Business, Technology, US

By

Howard Bloom

England’s Morrisons, a 470-store British supermarket chain, has tried something innovative but disturbing.  

In a few of its stores over the Christmas season, it installed a robotic intrusion detector designed to act as a night watchman on construction sites, in mines, and on farms.  Morrisons tried this machine to detect, not trespassers, but shoplifters.  

The robotic device is the Safer Pod S1s from Scotland’s Safer Group.  A machine the size of a post office box that, like a post office box, is as high as your chest, stands on four legs, and is rooted to the ground, but unlike a postal box is riddled with sensors and with software that can tell the difference between an intruding animal and an intruding human.  

The Safer Pod has four infrared twin detection sensors that give it a 360 degree view. It operates on solar power or by photovoltaically harvesting a store’s artificial light.  The Safer Pod can detect floods, smoke, carbon monoxide, and has signal jamming software and a false alarm algorithm.   

The Safer Pod sends what it detects or sees back to a 24-hour manned central control room. 

What’s more, it’s equipped with a 120-decibel alarm.  An alarm as loud as an ambulance siren.  An alarm that could clear every shopper out of a store. 

Morrison’s says it installed the Safer Pod S1s in a handful of its supermarkets over the Christmas season with a sign explaining that, “we’re keeping an eye on things to keep your store safe.”  Now Morrisons is reviewing the results of the trial.  

What was the point?  Again, to detect shoplifters.  And how did Morrison’s customers react?  Britain’s, the Sun, quotes one shopper tweeting on X, “Wow Morrisons, how welcoming Robocop feels….[making] customers feel like criminals is lovely isn’t it?”  But that’s just one customer.  

Why was Morrisons driven to this experiment?  Because shoplifting is soaring in both Britain and the United States.  The New York Times reports that “a survey by the British Retail Consortium,” revealed eight million English thefts in a year, thefts that the survey says cost retailers almost 1.3 billion dollars. 

The Times explains that just one 2,400-store English food chain, Co-op, says it has 1,000 incidents per day. And Co-op put out a press release explaining that  “one of its stores was ‘looted’ three times in one day.” Very reminiscent of America’s flash robs. 

Meanwhile, back here in America, we are also being assaulted by a wave of retail crime.  The Retail Insight Network reports that, “Felony… shoplifting incidents nearly doubled from 8% before the pandemic to almost 16% in the first half of 2023.”   

But there is a massive puzzle in the American statistics.  In New York and LA, the increases by the middle of 2023 were startling.  In New York, retail theft was up a shocking 64% and LA was running neck and neck, with a retail crime increase of a mind-blasting 61%. In fact, says the Sourcing Journal, Los Angeles has “topped the list” for organized retail crime “for the fifth year running.¹”  Dallas’ and Virginia Beach’s retail crime also increased dramatically. 

But here’s the puzzle.  In San Francisco, Seattle, St Petersburg Florida, Saint Paul Minnesota, and St. Louis, retail crime has been going down.  Yes, down, decreasing by 78% in St. Petersburg alone.  

Why the discrepancy? All of the cities going down in retail crime have Democratic mayors.  But so do cities skyrocketing in crime, New York and LA. So politics has nothing to do with it.  Which means that when it comes to the differences between cities rocketing in crime and those diving, no one knows.  And it appears that no one is trying to find out.  

But why all this crime to begin with? One reason may be, as  the Sourcing Journal says, we’ve been up against “chaotic smash-and-grabs…carefully orchestrated flash mobs, heists and fencing operations.”  Flash robs. 

In other words, retail crime has become a bonanza for those who are capable of organizing it.  And those organizers may be better in some cities than others.  

But there’s another reason.  Despite a strong economy with one of the lowest unemployment rates in history, the poverty rate is climbing.  From 2021 to 2022, the rate of poverty went up 60%. Homelessness has also gone up 35% in the last seven years. And the desperation of poverty and homelessness can drive crime. 

References: 

https://www.retail-insight-network.com/news/shoplifting-us-cities-rates/

https://sourcingjournal.com/topics/retail/organized-retail-crime-shoplifting-theft-los-angeles-new-york-legislation-484791/.

https://safer-group.com

https://www.securityinformed.com/news/safer-security-group-safer-pod-s1-next-generation-site-security-technology-co-4414-ga-co-1557224325-ga-co-1652250188-ga-npr.1656932447.html

https://customers.ajax.systems/safer-pod-s1

https://www.the-sun.com/news/10049004/morrisons-unleashes-robocop-cameras-in-supermarket-aisles/

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/dec/22/leeds-shoplifters-customers-black-market

https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2023/demo/p60-280.html

https://counciloncj.org/is-shoplifting-up-or-down/.

https://www.thestreet.com/retailers/crime-wave-here-are-the-top-u-s-cities-where-shoplifting-has-jumped

https://nypost.com/2022/01/22/why-shoplifting-is-soaring-in-the-us-and-will-get-worse/

https://nypost.com/2023/09/26/retailers-lost-112b-from-theft-amid-organized-crime-wave/.

https://capitaloneshopping.com/research/shoplifting-statistics/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/shopping/2023/12/07/nrf-retracts-organized-retail-theft-claim/71839129007/.

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/12/violence.

https://www.urban.org/features/five-charts-explain-homelessness-jail-cycle-and-how-break-it.

https://novaramedia.com/2023/04/10/people-are-shoplifting-their-way-out-of-the-cost-of-living-crisis/.

Criminality and Homeless Men: An Empirical Assessment – JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3096817.

https://www.newsnationnow.com/crime/worst-cities-organized-retail-crime-report/.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/san-francisco-s-retail-crime-may-not-be-as-bad-as-you-think/ar-AA1jF9RE.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/the-alleged-crime-epidemic-in-places-like-san-francisco-causing-stores-to-flee-may-actually-just-be-bad-management-investment-bank-suggests/ar-AA1jeOLU.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/retail/2023/11/16/is-shoplifting-on-the-rise/71595540007/.

https://www.newsweek.com/retail-crime-theft-crash-grab-stores-1847346.

______

Howard Bloom of the Howard Bloom Institute has been called the Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV.  One of his seven books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT.  His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American.  He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM.  For more, see http://howardbloom.institute.

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