Pharmacies and service stations are becoming new targets for Tauranga shoplifters as police figures reveal thefts in the region have reached a five-year high.
The figures, released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act, show the Western Bay of Plenty was the fourth-worst district in New Zealand for retail shoplifting in 2020. The Canterbury metro area took the national title for highest retail shoplifting numbers every year since 2016.
In 2019, 1498 offenders in the Western Bay of Plenty were caught - the highest number in five years.
Retail premises were the main target, but pharmacies and service stations also experienced a dramatic spike in thefts.
The worst offenders were people between the ages of 25 and 29, with men overall more prolific than women.
In 2018, police recorded nine pharmacy thefts, then 38 in 2019 and 49 service station thefts in 2018 compared to 70 in 2019.
Between January and August this year, 1122 people were caught for shoplifting, 900 were retail-related, with four months of data still to come. This was despite New Zealand being in Covid-19 lockdown between March and April, with shops remaining closed until alert level 2 in May.
Items valued under $500 were the most frequently stolen, but items between $500 and $1000 were also being taken in high numbers. Men were the most common offenders.
In a breakdown of ages, people aged between 25 and 29 were most commonly prosecuted for shoplifting between 2017 and 2020.
Acting director of the New Zealand Police's evidence-based policing centre Simon Williams said Western Bay of Plenty Police had seen changes in the landscape of shoplifting in the past year.
"Previously smaller, less valuable one-off items were targeted but this is more often being replaced with larger and more valuable clothing commodities or multiple grocery items."
Considerable resources were being put into good-quality CCTV systems and well-trained prevention staff. He said measures like this were helping prevent theft but also helped identify the offenders to be held to account.
Smaller shops and retailers had also worked out key ways to lay out their stores to combat theft, he said.
The police had undertaken an "evidence-based" initiative where statistics from months of offending were collated to work out theft peak times and locations to enable police staff to get on top of it, he said.
This included foot patrols and engagement with store staff and customers to help with prevention, he said.
Bureta Pharmacy owner Simon Hodgson said they had a number of deterrents in place in-store to make it clear to shoplifters that they were being watched.
Good CCTV systems that were "obvious", staff keeping a close eye and strategic layout were ways Hodgson said he kept thieves at bay.
"Someone would have to be very, very cheeky to get away with it."
However, he said they were lucky with their location and being a small pharmacy.
Hodgson laid out the shop in a way that meant high-value items were kept behind the counter and targeted items such as fragrance and cosmetics were kept in eye view or in lockable glass cabinets.
He had heard that post shop bags were a big one for shoplifters, as they had a monetary value and people would "grab a clump" and leave, he said.
Watchdog Security chief executive Brett Wilson said shoplifting in the Bay of Plenty was an ongoing problem that was only going to get worse as the economic impact of Covid continued to bite.
He said the Christmas months were always the busiest time of year for thieves as young offenders were on school holidays and there was "pressure" on families.
Wilson said shops being busier and distracted shopkeepers opened up "opportunities" for thieves.
However, there was new "facial recognition" CCTV technology being trialled by chain stores that would change the game of shoplifting, he said.
The cameras could load an image of a repeat offender and alert security staff when that person was on the premises so they could be stopped from coming in, he said.
However, he said this could cause "displacement" and mean smaller businesses could become more targeted.
He said a large number of businesses were getting more serious about their security, meaning "most people who steal don't get away with it".
Bally Dhaliwal, the manager of Caltex petrol stations in Ōtumoetai and Welcome Bay, said his Welcome Bay site sometimes fell victim to shoplifting but it was often "small and petty things".
This included chocolate bars or energy drinks, he said.
He said they had a good CCTV system in place, as well as panic alarms to deter criminals, but also kept his staff safe and in front of mind.
His Ōtumoetai site did not have many issues with shoplifting, he said.
The owner of Matua Dairy, who would not be named, said vigilance had changed shoplifting from being a major problem at their dairy to something they did not need to worry about.
"It's gotten much better."
He said they had installed a good CCTV system and changed the layout of their store to ensure they could have their eyes on commonly targeted items at all times.
Keeping things like cigarettes and other high-value items behind the counter were also vital, he said.
Antoinette Laird, head of corporate affairs at Foodstuffs NZ, which owns New World and Pak'n Save branches nationwide said shoplifting, in general, was an "ever-present problem" for retailers.
She said their stores had robust strategies in place to combat it to minimise stock loss and protect staff and customers.
These included security tagging high-risk or targeted products, putting less stock on shelves, plain-clothed staff, increased CCTV, theft reporting and trespass orders, she said.
"Shoplifting is a crime and stores go to great lengths to prevent it. Unfortunately, this is a cost to the store and inevitably to customers, making it a lose-lose situation for everyone."
A Countdown spokeswoman said theft was a reality in retail from time to time and they had a number of security measures in place to detect and prevent shoplifting.
These included CCTV, security tags on certain items, supervisors at checkouts and security guards at a number of stores.