Bedfordshire Police backs Co-op clampdown on 'disgusting' customers who 'threaten to cough on staff and give them coronavirus'
Bedfordshire Police is supporting the Co-op's clampdown to tackle customers who make coronavirus-related threats to staff as lockdown eases.
The retailer, which operates dozens of stores across Bedfordshire, has today announced that any type of crime towards staff "will not be tolerated".
It comes as new figures see assaults jump by 100%, threats and intimidation by 25% and verbal abuse by 175% since the start of the year.
There have been over 100 incidents related directly to people using COVID-19 as a threat.
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Examples given by the Co-op include multiple threats by customers to cough on staff and "give them coronavirus", as well as other threats of assault from customers angry at having to queue outside stores, social distance, or simply "because we do not have a specific product".
Superintendent Jaki Whittred, of Bedfordshire Police's community policing unit, said: “We support those key workers in essential retail who have worked so hard to keep the communities supplied with vital provisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They deserve to be praised, not abused, and we operate a zero tolerance policy towards violence in our county.
"Anyone found using violence against a shop worker can expect to feel the full effect of the law.”
Beds Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway is also releasing a statement in support of the Co-op's campaign.
Craig Goldie, from Central England Co-op, said: “We are working hard to ensure our colleagues and customers are safe so that we can continue to provide vital services and support to our communities.
“As well as working closely with local police forces, we have also put in place extra security guards to help keep colleagues and customers safe and also make sure that people are respecting social distancing rules.
“We also want to reiterate our plea to treat our colleagues with care, compassion and respect as they work around the clock for our communities.
"We want people to think long and hard about the person wearing our uniform – they will be someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandma or grandfather.
“We want people to ask themselves whether they would like their relatives to be confronted by someone in a violent or aggressive way, especially at this uncertain time – the answer is no and therefore why should our colleagues or anyone who works in retail have to even consider facing up to this kind of behaviour.”
The Society has long campaigned for the Government to change legislation so shop workers are afforded greater protection in carrying out those public duties.
Today, the Co-op is saying more needs to be done now to protect critical workers and curb a potential crime epidemic.
Over the past three years, Central England Co-op has invested heavily in measures to protect colleagues including fitting stores with external motion detectors and a centrally monitored CCTV system fitted which allows colleagues to call for assistance at the touch of a button.