POLICE are now attending less than half of all reports of shoplifting in Oxford as petty crime increasingly goes under the radar for the force.

But the lack of officer attention has not resulted in a dramatic rise in offences, according to new figures obtained via freedom of information requests.

The number of instances of shoplifting in Oxford over the past few years has in fact gone down, with experts saying thieves no longer see it as worth the risk.

In 2014, the figures show, officers attended the scene of an alleged shoplifting 77 per cent of the time - or 675 out of 876 reports.

By last year, this had fallen to attending 252 incidents out of the 587 reported, equivalent to only 42 per cent of the time.

Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network director Keith Slater said part of the reason for the drop in call-outs was because of the law change in 2014.

This re-defined 'low-value shoplifting' as a summary offence, meaning police forces no longer investigate thefts from shops of a value of under £200.

Anyone who is caught in the act of stealing goods worth less than £200 can still be arrested and face prosecution but these cases are frequently rushed through courts with defendants able to enter their plea by post.

Mr Slater said: "When they first started talking about changing the law, I was concerned we would see a big rise in shoplifting here but instead we've seen other factors that have proven more important.

"There's been a significant reduction in organised gangs with slick operations who used to steal large amount of goods in one go.

"It's simply not financially productive for them anymore and they've found other ways to make money.

"Shops have so many promotions and surplus stock, the returns they are going to get from selling stuff on isn't worth the risks they have to take."

Mr Slater said shops are still victims of repeat offenders who he describes as being 'almost addicted' to lifting items from shelves.

They are savvy to the law and know they can 'keep getting away with it', if they keep below the thresholds, according to Mr Slater.

Most shops operate on the basis that they will lose up to two per cent of turnover as a result of theft - either by staff or outsiders.

He said he would like to see police give more preventative advice, if they are not going to investigate all crimes, adding: "Officers could come in and help shop owners look at their premises through the eyes of a shop-lifter and help them identify where the weaknesses are."

The reduction in offences may still be a temporary blip, with 287 reports already in the first five months of the year.

The picture remained steady since the change in the law with 876, 796, 870 and 808 reports respectively in the years 2014-2017, before the drop-off last year.

But call-outs, when police actually attend the crime scene, have dropped year-on-year from a high of 675 in 2014 to 541 in 2015, 498 in 2016, 384 in 2017, 252 in 2018 and 86 so far this year.

Paul Jackson, the centre manager for Templars Square in Cowley, which has been frequently hit by shoplifters over the years, said more investment in CCTV and training for security staff has been having an impact.

He said: "Templars Square is committed to ensuring that its customers and retailers are safe and secure at all times.

"Over the past year we have invested in new and improved CCTV equipment and our security staff undertake ongoing awareness training, ensuring that they know how to spot and deter thieves.

"We offer this training to all our tenants, advising them on how to reduce the risk of crime in their stores.

"It's good news to hear that the number of shoplifting offences has gone down; we hope that it continues to do so ensuring that our centre, and the city as a whole, is a safe place to shop and relax."

Thames Valley Police spokeswoman Louisa Maher said: "Thames Valley Police responds to all incidents based on threat, harm and risk, so each incident is considered on a case-by-case basis.

"Officers investigate shoplifting offences and the local neighbourhood teams continue to work closely with businesses to assist owners with keeping their businesses safe from all types of crime.

"Crime prevention advice is also available on our website thamesvalley.police.uk/cp/crime-prevention/shoplifting."