Plymouth's proposed Operation Drake has already attracted criticism from local people who believe it could be seen as racist. Photograph: Colin Palmer Photography/Alamy
Plymouth city centre is proposing to limit the number of foreign students who can enter shops at one time because of a rise in shoplifting and antisocial behaviour.
Teenagers who are visiting the city to study English could find their movements restricted by the Operation Drake project.
Shops would display stickers stipulating that only a certain number of students could be inside at a time. Posters would also be sent to language schools explaining the scheme.
Operation Drake is being discussed by city councillors on Monday but the project has already attracted criticism from some local people who believe it could be seen as racist.
The proposals are set out in a report to the council's growth and prosperity overview and scrutiny panel (pdf).
It says Operation Drake has been worked on by Plymouth Against Retail Crime and a police community support officer.
The report says: "Over the past five years we have seen in Plymouth, especially the city centre area, a large influx of foreign students. Feedback received from retailers has been that they have experienced an increase in shoplifting and antisocial behaviour from foreign students, incurring large financial losses."
It adds that the action plan includes:
• Special cards for foreign students to carry with them at all times with useful contact numbers.
• Stickers to be displayed in retail premises bearing Operation Drake logo limiting the number of students allowed in at any one time.
• Posters displayed in all language schools explaining Operation Drake.
The plan was greeted with concern on the Plymouth Herald website. "Shocked at how racist this report is. What sort of city are we living in?" said one commentator. "And will we be sewing some symbol on to their clothes just so we know who the 'different' people are?" asked another.
Sorry if the title's a bit more emotive than the contents of the article might warrant, but for crying out loud, are these people serious? No details are forthcoming about exactly they're supposed to identify a "foreign student", and frankly I'm afraid to ask. Doesn't this send such a fucking wonderful message to the rest of the world? Confronted with the admittedly non-trivial problem of shoplifting by a bunch of teenagers and young adults away from parental supervision for the first time, do the shopkeepers of Plymouth hire a couple of loss-prevention staff over the summer, or invest in better CCTV? No, they go to the council asking for some kind of by-law to let them limit the number of foreigners in their store at any one time.
And suggestion that it'll be all students and not just the foreign ones is frankly less than reassuring as well, because I don't feel any too comfortable with profiling based on age either. I've been chased out of a shop with one of those "no more than two unaccompanied children at a time" signs and it felt a hell of a lot like discrimination to me at the time!