Young thieves target CBD

By Kristin Edge

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Young thieves working in groups to fleece Whangarei businesses of thousands of dollars of property are jeopardising the future of some shops.

The issue was raised at a Whangarei City Council meeting in a report by police area commander Inspector Tracy Phillips, who said officers were working with business owners in the central city to ensure they had good layout to prevent theft from happening.

In a recent incident, a teenage girl had run from a shop with stolen clothing but dropped $920 worth of jeans while fleeing.

Ms Phillips said the groups, with some as young as 13, were working in a co-ordinated way with lookouts and vehicles to take them from the scene as quickly as possible with the stolen items. They were also using cellphones to organise group hits on various businesses. The manager of a central city business, who did not want to be named, said the shop had been targeted.

He said thousands of dollars worth of stock had disappeared out the door since opening last year.

The manager suspected the kids were working for adults and were stealing clothes to order.

"The thefts are really upsetting and putting a lot of pressure on us. If we don't meet our targets, well national office decides we are not profitable and they close us down."

Groups of up to 15 had hit the shop and taken clothing items from the racks and run off.

"It's not petty theft anymore. These thefts involve hundreds of dollars worth of stock."

Some youngsters - including a 9-year-old - had been banned from the shop and better security systems had been put in place to act as a deterrent.

"I wish their parents were involved so there could be some consequences for the kids."

Whangarei police beat Constable Solomone Halaapiapi said the rise in shoplifting had corresponded with a rise in the number of truants in the central city. He was working with business owners to prevent thefts.

"A lot is opportunistic and closing down that opportunity is the way to curb this behaviour," Mr Halaapiapi said.

He said some of the national chain stores had their hands tied when it came to changing store layouts because of national policy, but things were happening behind the scenes to make improvements.

Merv Williams, manager of the Strand and a Whangarei City councillor, said the group thefts were "like the flu and they come in bouts".

"It really hurts the retailers and we are thankful the police have been so proactive," he said.

He agreed that the increase coincided with a rise in the number of school truants and hoped police would continue to run operations targeting students who should be in class during the day.

- Northern Advocate

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