POLICE patrols in shopping areas have been stepped up from today in a crackdown on thieves planning to make the most of the festive season by stealing from shops, bookmakers, pubs and other businesses. 

And their message is clear ... Christmas is a time for giving, not taking. 

Posters and leaflets are being distributed to businesses educating staff about ensuring they have very little readily accessible cash available, how to report suspicious behaviour and ensure they have maximum security measures in place.

High-visibility and plain clothes officers will also patrol key vulnerable locations for retail crime across the county in a bid to deter criminals attempting to target retail premises.

DNA security sprays, fogging machines and tagging systems will continue to be installed at selected business premises.

Many stores have been fitted with DNA security sprays so staff can mark criminals should they attempt to commit a robbery.

This mark, unique to each shop or business, will then be visible under a UV light, and will make it much easier for officers to identify offenders.

The use of forensic spray is an invaluable tool to help prevent business robberies and convict offenders.

Trackers are attached to various items in retail stores, meaning if they are stolen officers will be able to track where they are.

Police will also provide vulnerable retailers with fogging devices, which can be set off by shopkeepers to disorientate offenders threatening them, or demand cash or goods without any intention to pay for them.

Superintendent Matt Boyle said: "Sadly, in the run up to Christmas some people see our retail premises as an easy target. But they are wrong.

"Our message is clear - we are investing significant resources and those criminals who target bookmakers are taking huge risks and facing increasingly lengthy prison sentences for very little reward.

"The offenders who do chance their arm and try to commit a robbery will face in the region of five or even ten years in prison when they get caught so my question to them would be: is it really worth five years in prison for 50 quid?

"Business robberies are not victimless crimes. Many of our convenience stores are run by local people who just want to earn a living and provide for their families.

"The person serving behind the counter could be someone's mum, sister or grandmother yet these criminals think nothing of pointing a gun or a weapon at them and screaming at them to open the till or safe.

"Some of these people are injured and others will be left permanently traumatised by such an incident.

"Retail businesses provide a vital service to our communities, so preventing these crimes is in everyone's interest.

"The impact that these offences, particularly robbery, can have on those who work in the stores is huge.

"Sometimes if a store has been subjected to a robbery it can be difficult for staff to face going back in to work, as they fear it may happen again.

"We will not tolerate offenders who target local stores and create a climate of fear and intimidation and will use all the tools in our armoury to deter and prevent this type of crime and lock up those responsible for committing this retail crime."