Shoplifters are becoming bolder and challenging shop owners to call police, knowing their chances of tough penalties or being caught are slim, say small business owners.

The situation around the country has prompted Retail NZ to call on the government to establish a retail crime taskforce within police to deal with cases of robberies and shoplifting.

Aggravated robbery and shoplifting costs New Zealand retailers about $1 billion in lost revenue each year.

However, some Northland business owners are saying they would prefer police attended shoplifting incidents, instead of the establishment of a crime taskforce.

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In recent weeks shoplifters have brazenly grabbed alcohol and meat from retail outlets, with little attempt to hide their thefts from staff.

Two dairy owners who have been victims of aggravated robberies said swift police response is important, particularly with shoplifting, which is on the rise, with thieves getting cheekier, and more blatant.

One dairy owner told the Northern Advocate shoplifting happened once or twice a week compared with about four times a year, a few years ago.

Teenagers confronted for stealing from his shop have challenged him to call police, he said, because they knew officers would not catch them.

He said even if they got arrested and charged, they were likely to be given diversion or sentenced to a short term of home detention.

"They continue with this behaviour and it gives them the courage to try shoplifting for high value items in bigger stores.

"Police have got to take complaints of shoplifting and robberies seriously and attend to these as a matter of urgency. In some cases, they arrive after one hour."

Another dairy owner who was assaulted by an aggravated robber during a hold-up doubts a retail crime taskforce would be of much help.

He loses between $30 and $40 a week through shoplifting and said the situation has got out of control in the past two to three years.

"It won't be long before they pick up weapons like guns and terrorise shop owners and some are already doing that after starting with shoplifting," he said.

"Take complaints seriously is what I'd advise police, even if they are for snatch and grabs."

In Whangarei, three dairies, a liquor store and a service station have been targeted since March 5 and mostly cash and cigarettes stolen.

Maunu Four Square was robbed on March 5, Otaika Four Square on March 18, Maunu Superette two days later, Otaika Liquor store on March 27 and BP on Riverside on April 21.

Police have made arrests in the BP Riverside and the Otaika Liquor store robberies and are following leads in other cases.

Northland police boss Superintendent Russell le Prou encouraged businesses to report criminal activities, no matter how minor.

That helped to build a picture of what was occurring where and allowed police to gather information so they could patrol high-risk areas, he said.

Mr le Prou said police were targeting bail checks, known offenders, and visiting retail premises such as dairies and liquor stores to share crime prevention advice.

"At this time we see it is not necessary to dedicate a retail crime task force, as our CIB is fulfilling this role."

He said a robbery involving violence was high priority in terms of police attendance.

"Police assess all details available to us in order to solve shoplifting and robbery incidents, which can take some time."

Where firearms or aggression were used, he said people should look after their own safety first and not take the situation into their own hands.

Retail NZ spokesman Greg Harford said retail crime was growing and becoming more menacing and violent with the involvement of gangs.

"There is a widespread view that, outside incidences of violence, police responses to retail crime can be extremely limited, even if offenders have been clearly identified. Some retailers do not even bother reporting incidents to police anymore."