An Auckland vape store owner who suffered three burglaries during lockdown is welcoming a dedicated retail crime police unit, but said the main problem lies with repeat youth offenders who cannot be charged.
Police aim to crack down on "high-profile repeat offending", which is costing stores around a billion dollars a year and becoming increasingly violent, with a new specialised investigation unit launching next year.
The unit is being applauded by the owner of a Vapeys Vape Store, but Naresh said repeat offenders who targeted his Panmure store are almost all under the age of 14.
The store fell victim to three break-ins over a fortnight while Auckland was under alert level 4 restrictions in August, causing up to $50,000 in damages and lost stock.
The string of thefts left Naresh suffering nightmares and panic attacks, and he was constantly checking CCTV footage.
"I see [the police unit] as a welcome addition, but they need to look at the bigger piece as well ... what is the infrastructure we create [for youth offending]?
"I'm not saying they should be punished but what is the better infrastructure that we create so that these guys don't go and offend [again].
"If they go down this direction now, they're definitely going to be a bigger problem later on taxpayers' money ... whatever support structure they have is not working."
The Panmure branch on Jellicoe Rd had to be covered with wooden boards because "pretty much the whole thing was damaged", Naresh said, and they could not install a metal roller door during lockdown restrictions.
Staff have been removing stock from the shelves at nighttime as an extra safety measure, which takes a few hours to complete each day.
'Litany of abuse'
When thefts occur during retail opening hours, Retail New Zealand said employees are often subject to a "litany of abuse", threats and in some cases assaults.
"We've got people who don't want to go to work because it's too traumatic for them and it's just not on," chief executive Greg Harford told the Herald.
When the National Retail Investigation Support Unit launches next year, stores across New Zealand will share data such as crime reports with police and other crime prevention organisations.
Larger retailers are already sharing information with each other and police, Harford said, but this will be bolstered.
It's hoped the information sharing will better inform police prosecution decisions and ultimately lead to more arrests of the "worst offenders".
"We know from data it's a relatively small number of people who commit a relatively large proportion of crime in the retail space," Harford said.
"They're often operating as groups of people or gangs working together. They're often piling goods up in a trolley and walking out of the store and threatening retail workers along the way, or assaulting them."
Harford said aggression towards staff has "really stepped up a couple of notches" over the last 18 months, since the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year reports emerged of abuse being hurled towards supermarket staff during alert level 4 restrictions.
"Members of the public are often really angry, unhappy, everything has been disrupted but no matter how people are feeling, it's never okay to take out those frustrations on retail staff."
Harford encourages retailers to report every theft to police.
"This is a big issue, this new unit is not going to solve every problem facing the retail sector but it's a really good step forward."
The unit is expected to be up and running in the first quarter of next year.
It will primarily be made up of police with specialist staff seconded from within the retail sector and other crime prevention organisations, police said.
"No retail worker or customer should experience fear or trauma when going about their day-to-day activities and the establishment of this unit signals our continued commitment to ensuring everyone can be safe and feel safe," said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.