Counting Crime is a Herald series looking at where and when offending is happening in the community - and who the victims are. Each day we will look at a different category of crime and examine the numbers, meet the people affected the most and reveal the times, days and places you are more likely to fall victim. Today we look at retail crime, which costs New Zealand more than $1.2 billion annually.

Brazen criminals are becoming more violent and are now seemingly fearless of being caught or reprimanded, says the Retailers Association of New Zealand.

"I think definitely it is becoming more violent, both becoming more menacing and more violent," public affairs general manager Greg Harford told the Herald as part of its Counting Crime series.

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"Increasingly we are hearing that the criminals think they can act with impunity and threaten retail staff and take things out of the store, but that is also translating into more violence."

Counting Crime: check out your neighbourhood at Herald Insights here.

Retail NZ stats show 10 per cent of thefts include an assault, aggressive behaviour toward staff, or disorderly conduct.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Sam Hoyle said the violence had escalated to a point where shopkeepers and their staff were now getting seriously hurt.

"There has been in some part, some quite organized people stealing certain products and we've used our networks amongst the retailers and technology to try and keep ahead of that.

"You'll get people who are targeting good cuts of meat, or a certain brand of clothing, or other high value products."

He said this product targeting has resulted in desperate, armed offenders willing to use violent means to get what they came for.

Hoyle said structured gangs will hit a shop several times.

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Sergeant James Calvert talks to store manager Harjinder Singh after an aggravated robbery. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Sergeant James Calvert talks to store manager Harjinder Singh after an aggravated robbery. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Violent robberies targeting cigarettes have increased dramatically across the country, prompting Police Minister Paula Bennett earlier this month to announce a $1.8 million protection package for store owners.

The funds will be used for deterrent measures such as fog cannons, DNA spray, panic alarms and time safes for cash.

Bennett said the Government's aim was to "stop these crimes from happening in the first place and make it easier to catch these criminals".

Some have said the increase in violent attacks for cigarettes is linked to tax on tobacco rising 10 per cent every year as part of the Government's attempt to make New Zealand smokefree. The Crown received $1.7 billion in tobacco taxes last year - more than 2 per cent of all tax revenue.

Woolston Discounter Dairy in Christchurch has been targeted several times. Photo / Supplied
Woolston Discounter Dairy in Christchurch has been targeted several times. Photo / Supplied

Superintendent John Tims, the acting Assistant Commissioner for districts, said police across greater Auckland had arrested more than 65 people since February following a spate of aggravated retail robberies.

"We know these robberies have been very concerning to our community and we are taking this issue very seriously," Tims said.

He said every robbery of a commercial business was sent to the Major Crime Team.

Police have identified high risk areas and are focused on prevention as part of Operation Dukan, a scheme to curb violent small business robberies.

Staff at the Thirsty Liquor Store in Papatoetoe suffered a violent robbery last month. Photo / Supplied
Staff at the Thirsty Liquor Store in Papatoetoe suffered a violent robbery last month. Photo / Supplied

Retail New Zealand also called on the Government to introduce a police taskforce to combat retail crime and introduce spot-fines for theft-related offences.

The organisation called for a "three-point action plan", which included the taskforce, a social-change programme, and an infringement notice penalty regime for petty offences.

It proposed a $500 fine where the value of the stolen property is less than $250; $750 when it is between $250 and $500; and $1250 when it is between $500 and $1000.