SHOPLIFTERS in Huddersfield are being charged with a far more serious crime than theft.
Town centre shops and the police have got together in a pioneering scheme which treats persistent shoplifters as trespassers in a 'three strikes and you're out' rule.
It means thieves must stay out of the shops and could be charged with burglary if caught stealing again.
Under the Retail Banning Scheme if a thief commits more than one shoplifting offence he or she will be regarded as a trespasser.
And people who trespass with intent to steal can be charged with burglary - and so face tougher penalties in court.
Several thieves have been charged with burglary.
Since the scheme began and a new policing team was set up to patrol Huddersfield town centre shoplifting fell by 16% in July, August and September.
Just 130 shoplifting offences have been recorded in this time - and 73% of them have been detected.
This bucks the national trend, which has seen a large rise in shoplifting.
A recent national survey suggested that shoplifting had risen by 70% since 2000 - despite the industry ploughing £4.3bn into crime prevention.
Insp David Glover, of Huddersfield Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "The Retail Banning Scheme is only used locally. But that, coupled with the town centre policing team, has had an impact.
"The town centre team's presence is a deterrent and must go some way towards the 16% decrease seen this quarter."
Cathy Burger, manager of the Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership - which represents 160 businesses - said banning orders had worked in keeping the worst offenders out of shops.
Police, shop security staff and the CCTV system operators all have photos of the main culprits, so they can be quickly spotted.
People who break banning orders not only face the prospect of facing a burglary charge they could also be given Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.
If they break those they could be jailed.
Mrs Burger added: "We feel there has been a decrease in shoplifting, but we still have a problem with pickpockets.
"We are working closely with the police on this."
The partnership meets the police every two months for updates on prolific offenders and how they operate, along with the latest crime trends happening around town.
Insp Glover added: "The town centre team carries out high-visibility patrols which we will be increasing in the run-up to Christmas.
"We will also be drafting in extra resources."
THREE steps to a burglary charge for shoplifters.
When someone is arrested and charged or cautioned for a first shoplifting offence they are given a warning letter with information about the Retail Banning Scheme. Their name is put on a shoplifting database for two years and reviewed after a year if they stay clear of trouble.
If they are arrested a second time for shoplifting they receive a final warning letter. This tells them that if they are caught again they will be given a banning order from shops and their photo will be circulated to all 160 businesses in the Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership.
If they commit a third offence they are banned from the stores, treated as a trespasser if they try to enter and their photo is circulated. If caught again - and are regarded as a persistent shoplifter stealing items of substantial value - they could be charged with burglary. They may then be dealt with at a crown court.