Earlier this week, five people were caught in the act following a shoplifting spree at Botany Town Centre in Auckland, New Zealand.

Police had received a report of a group of people allegedly loading up trolleys at various stores in Botany Town Centre and walking off without paying.

Counties Manukau East area prevention manager, Inspector Rakana Cook said the group was followed through the mall by a security guard who searched the group's bags and located a number of stolen items.

“A machete and an axe were also recovered from the bag,” Cook said.

Botany Town Centre is home to over 200 retail stores and services, with 56 fashion stores, three fashion-related department stores. It is unknown which stores were affected.

Cook said the group was then escorted of site and police were quickly notified following the initial bag search.

“However, the group made their way to another store nearby where they have proceeded to load up trolleys and leave the store without paying," Cook said.

“They have exited the store through a backdoor and made their way down to Chapel Road, where our staff quickly took them into custody without incident.”

Inspector Cook said the stolen items have since been recovered and returned to the stores. 

This latest incident adds to more than 14,215 prosecutions and 1,429 youth referrals for retail-related crime in New Zealand since December 2022. This includes destruction of property, abuse of staff and theft.

There were also 388 cases of offenders using vehicles to break into stores (ram raid) between December 2022 and the end of May 2023.

As of July, police have taken 218 prosecutions against ram-raid offenders, made 86 youth referrals to Police Youth Services and were continuing to actively investigate approximately 99 ram raids.

“Retail crime costs New Zealand retailers $1 billion each year and has a significant personal impact on those working in the industry,” NZ Police noted on its website.

“This year has seen a spike in ram raid style burglaries, as we tend to see at times with other crime types. This has affected small local retailers and larger chains.”

“Police recognises the impact of retail crime on business owners and staff and takes reports of ram raids very seriously. Responses are normally district-managed and include significant investigative action to identify and hold those responsible to account.

“Police has also been actively working alongside retailers and retail communities to give them prevention advice and support.”

Speaking to Ragtrader, Retail NZ CEO Carolyn Young said there is no single factor driving retail crime. As well as ram raids, it also includes gang and organised crime, youth issues, and - “to a much lesser degree” - deprivation.

“There are a large number of recidivist offenders that continue to commit a large number of offences,” Young said.

“Adults using children to commit a crime, the filming and posting of crime online being an aggravating factor in sentencing and greater accountability for those over 10 to be in front of victims and taking part in community activities as a result.”

Young said there are a large number of examples of retail crime coming through her office from retailers every day.

“Issues range from businesses being targeted with ram raids, organised crime (linked to gangs and stealing to order), youth issues driven by social media and wanting to gain notoriety on TikTok, gang initiations.

“We have even seen a video of a customer setting a fire in a store to create a distraction so that they could steal a trolley of goods. You can imagine the impact on the store, the fire alarm was set off, sprinklers were triggered – causing significant damage, the Fire Service was called to put out the fire and staff are unsettled as their workplace was targeted and they do not feel safe.”

New Zealand-based outdoorwear retailer Icebreaker told Ragtrader it has been significantly impacted by retail crime, particularly ram raids in the last year.

“The challenge with this is not only lost goods but also repairs to the building and lost trade through closures and repair,” Icebreaker said in a statement.

“Our main priority is always the safety and wellbeing of our team, and we continue to put time into extra training and security for handling instances of theft and conflict in store.”

Meanwhile, Briscoe Group director Rod Duke reported an explosion of retail crime across New Zealand in an interim trading update last month.

“Over the last two years, the Group has suffered seven ram raid attacks and at least 12 other significant break-ins causing substantial property damage and stock loss," Duke said. "Of even more concern, is the ever-increasing level of abuse and aggressive behaviour our store teams have to endure.

“We have significantly increased our capital investment in security initiatives to ensure our team feel as safe as possible when they are working in our stores and I would like to once again, thank the entire team for their continued commitment and outstanding efforts during this half. It is greatly appreciated and acknowledged by all of the Group’s directors.”

Young said Retail NZ has been undertaking measures alongside retailers to ensure they have up-to-date knowledge and strategies around how to keep their store and staff safe.

“There has been investment by police into the Retail Crime Unit, which has been doing great work and making a difference. Specific advice from this unit is helping retailers with preventive measures.

“De-escalation is also critical training to ensure that staff are well equipped to deal with the increasing aggressive interactions with customers.”

Young said it has recently completed an in-depth survey with retailers on crime and the impact it is having on their business. She said the results will be released in late September.

“Out the back of this report, we will be finalising our Position Statements that outline the key issues and what needs to happen next. These Position Statements will form our ongoing discussions with the Government, ministers, police, and government ministries.

“The retail crime we are seeing in New Zealand is driven by a wide range of factors, therefore there is no easy solution, but in some instances it's around working with a number of agencies like the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice and the police, in other areas it may be more focused solely on the justice system.”

Young said any retail crime is unacceptable, adding there are consequences.

“Actions like taking away the notoriety of filming retail crime and instead making this an aggravating factor in sentencing is a good step forward,” she said.

“Having multiple tools available for police, and the boosting of prosecution services will help retailers feel supported in the current endemic environment of retail crime. We have consistently advocated for multiple tools and areas of support for retailers to combat the unacceptable levels of retail crime.

“We look forward to an ongoing review from Government to ensure all tools are being used to mitigate retail crime.”

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