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.

Retail thefts are costing the New Zealand economy $1.2 billion per year, as shopkeepers and police desperately try to shake the stereotype of a "victimless crime".

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Organised, sophisticated criminal groups are now targeting specific retailers and high value products as career thieves force Kiwi households to bear the cost - to the tune of $700 per household annually.

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From July 2014 to December 2016 there were 68,072 reported thefts from retail premises nationwide, with the Counties-Manukau district recording the most thefts (8698), 2561 of which came in Manukau Central.

Other urban areas heavily hit during the same period included, Auckland East (3524) and Hamilton Central (3511).

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

Retailers Association public affairs general manager Greg Harford said retail crime was now a significant issue, and on the rise.

"Crime is being reported right across the retail sector, and we have noticed a particular increase in crime targeting tobacco as the excise tax hikes kick in.

"But it's not just tobacco - any high-value item is a target for thieves."

Thieves, he said, were targeting everything from razor blades to meat, expensive clothing, petrol and tobacco.

"We're hearing about crime in book stores, we're hearing about crime in sports stores, in dairies and groceries, in liquor shops, in fashion boutiques - you name, it there seems to be crime going on."

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Harford said there was a monetary cost associated with retail crime - estimated to be at least $1.2 billion in losses per year.

Extra costs for deterrence and prevention at small businesses are also adding to the total.

"Ultimately, all these costs are borne by consumers because the costs are inevitably absorbed into the overall price paid for goods in New Zealand," Harford added.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Sam Hoyle told the Herald police didn't view retail thefts in dollar terms, but rather as crime targeting people and having a "large impact" on smaller retailers.

"People's margins are tight - having people steal from them is potentially catastrophic if the volumes get up," he said.

"For us it is an opportunity to intervene with offenders, and understand the drivers for their offending and what other offending they might be up to."

Part of the problem was a common attitude from New Zealanders who view retail crime as petty or victimless.

"Multinationals, what are they going to notice if I take something that's worth a few dollars?" Hoyle said.

"People don't understand the cumulative effect of those actions and the cost to hire security and CCTV and all that companies put into their stores. Theft is always theft, whatever the value."

From mid-2014 to the end of 2016 there were 68,072 reported thefts from retail premises. Photo / File
From mid-2014 to the end of 2016 there were 68,072 reported thefts from retail premises. Photo / File

To combat the problem, retailers have been forced to take several steps to prevent, deter and take action against criminals.

However, often the end result was simply increased insurance rates to cover losses, Harford added.

Installing security cameras and hiring a permanent security guard also drives up product prices for consumers.

"We've certainly heard that the cost of insurance for retailers is going up, it is going up as crime increases," Harford said.

"Spending on security is increasing - a number of stores now employ full-time security guards, stores are reviewing their layout and camera or mirror systems, some are introducing policies to 'name and shame' those who steal by publishing their images, automatic number plate recognition systems are being used, and retailers are increasingly sharing information in an effort to identify and stop the thieves.

"Despite this, insurance costs are increasing year on year, and ultimately, all consumers pay for the costs of crime."

Police statistics show rural town centres have also been hit relatively hard.

Hastings, Palmerston North, and Whangarei were all rural town centres which reported high levels of retail crime from mid-2014 to the end of 2016.

"[It's] probably fair to say [there are] certainly places around the country where it's worse than others. But pretty much across the board our members are reporting to us that crime is on the increase," Harford said.

"Perhaps there is some communities where there is more crime than others."

Hoyle added it was important to understand why some areas of New Zealand had higher rates of retail crime.

"Sometimes you'll look at a suburb and it looks incredibly high, but you might find it's down to one or two premises within that suburb. It could be one supermarket which catches a shoplifter every day," he said.

"If you imagine a big supermarket catching a shoplifter every day . . . that has an impact when you look at a year's data."

Varying reporting practices also affected how police deployed resources.

"There are different reporting practices across different companies, particularly when you've got big national chains, but even with some of the smaller places you'll have one outfit which is not reporting anything to police that's less than a couple of hundred dollars and you'll have another outfit that will report every candy bar," Hoyle said.

"And, so what you're looking at is not a reflection of true shoplifting, you're looking at reporting practices."

He said often retailers would share their information and data with other companies, but many were "not interested in the court process".

Harford said there were solutions to curb the issue. He called for more retailers to work together and share information on criminal activity in an effort to help catch repeat offenders.

Statistics are sourced from the police national data page and are for July 2014 to December 2016 with an outcome of investigation of 30 days.

Inside job: Theft from workers

About 12 per cent of all retail crime is due to employee thefts. Photo / File
About 12 per cent of all retail crime is due to employee thefts. Photo / File

While it is hard to pinpoint an exact amount, there is "certainly a significant proportion" of the losses which can be attributed to staff thefts.

Harford estimated about 12 per cent of all retail crime was due to employees' sticky fingers.

Staff thefts can include those who are will dip into the cash from the till, to those putting through false transactions and fixing the books, or employees who fail to charge friends and family for goods and services.

"There is certainly an element of employee theft," Harford said, but added it was increasingly hard to monitor.

Many businesses will not report employee theft to authorities, with most cases dealt with internally.

Increasing good communication between retailers and staff was a way of letting business owners know of a potential leak in their cash flow, Harford said.

"People need to know what's going on in their stores, be it suspicious activity or people stealing things from their store."

However, he warned, retailers did have to be extremely sure someone, a staff member or otherwise, had committed a crime before accusing them of such.

"Many of the people coming through the store and stealing stuff are the same people."

Employers should check a new employee's references and perform a quick background check for any suspicious behaviour during previous work.

However, Harford reiterated, of more concern were organised gangs targeting retailers and harassing staff.

The brazen nature of retail crime appealed to the opportunistic nature of some criminals, he said.

Targeted items

• Food items
• Expensive clothing
• Petrol
• Alcohol and tobacco

What retailers are doing to protect their stores

• Full-time security guards
• New camera or mirror systems
• 'Name and shame' policies for those who steal
• Automatic number plate recognition systems
• Sharing offender information with other retailers