The number of petty thefts, which are considered only an offence, has increased to over 400 thousand per year. This is the effect of changes in the law, increasing the crime threshold from 250zł to 420zł to 437zł.

Shoplifting - a thief with a shopping cart full of money

Let’s see.. 23zł, times 14, carry the 3..

Branded liquors, cosmetics and small electrical appliances – these goods get stolen the most, and when taking them from the shelves, the thieves watch that their total value does not exceed 437 złoty (€100). A theft of goods up to this amount is only an offence, above it – it’s a crime.

Increasing that threshold amount between offence and crime proved to have consequences. The number of thefts regarded as offences increased rapidly; in 2014 there were over 400 thousand, an increase of 56 thousand compared to the previous year – according to data from the Ministry of Interior about the state of security in the country.

Thieves steal with a calculator in hand. They know that when the products amount to a certain value, it is almost with impunity, because they face only a fine, which usually can not be collected – says Adam Suliga, an expert of the Polish Chamber of Commerce.

Over the years, 250 złoty was the amount to which a theft was considered an offence. In autumn 2013 this limit was raised to the amount corresponding to one-fourth of the minimum wage – in 2014 it was 420zł, and it’s 437zł now.

The thieving “industry” quickly adapted and changed their behaviours: stealing only a little at a time not to face criminal charges. Statistics confirm this trend. The number of crimes (theft) fell dropped year by approx. 19% – down to 173 thousand (from 214 thousand in 2013). On the other hand, the number of thefts considered as offences increased from 344 thousand to 400 thousand (by approx. 16%).

Mainly self-service stores, more and more often in smaller cities, are getting robbed. Thieves take what is easy for them to sell: alcohol, clothing, coffee and small electrical and household appliances – says Adam Suliga.

Andrzej Borowiak, a Wielkopolska police spokesman points out:

In construction mega stores mostly power tools are stolen: drills and grinders. They cost a few hundred złoty, so the act is an offence.

Petty thieves are also extremely mobile. In their home towns they are well known to cops, so they rally across the country.

When they are caught, they say the theft occurred for the first time, and the police are unable to verify who they are dealing with, because there is no register of persons committing offences – explains Suliga.

He adds that the Polish Chamber of Commerce has long alarmed that the law needs to be changed, so the police could also collect data on the perpetrators of offences, and not just crimes. With no avail so far.

In practice the “repentant” offender is often a notorious thief for whom stealing is a way of life. Single thefts are often done by a gang. In one of the supermarkets three alcohol thieves were caiught. It turned out that they had 60 bottles in the car.

Changing the law had a noble goal: to speed up the proceedings and relieve police officers of paperwork, had a side effect. It made the thieves more daring and audacious.

If we reduce the value of stolen property, so the act becomes just an offence, we make a gift to criminals – says prof. Brunon Hołyst, a criminologist.

For an offence theft there is a fine up to 500 zł, and when the case goes to court – up to 5 thousand or restriction of liberty. An actual crime might get you in prison for five years.

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