13 Mar 2023

Retail crime increased, fog cannons only bandaid on symptoms - Mitchell

2:49 pm on 13 March 2023
Mark Mitchell

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Data released to the opposition by the police minister shows reported retail crime rose by 39 percent from 2018 to 2022.

National's police spokeperson Mark Mitchell said there was an average of 292 recorded retail crimes each day in 2022, up from 140 per day in 2018.

"A regional breakdown of the data provided by the police minister shows this isn't only happening in isolated areas," Mitchell said.

"Eight out of 12 policing districts reported at least a 100 percent increase in retail crime incidents since 2018."

Police said the data was skewed, partly because new systems make it easier to report low-level crime.

In his answer to National's written parliamentary question (WPQ), Police Minister Stuart Nash noted the breakdown included crimes captured via surveillance company Auror.

"Since 2017 there has been a significant increase in the number of major retail chains who are now reporting shop lifting and theft incidents on Auror, particularly for goods less than $500 in value," Nash said.

For context, 17 percent of all reported retail crime was through Auror at the end of 2017 and this had risen to 65 percent by 2022. Most of the reporting by Auror - some 82 percent - was for low-level crimes like shoplifting or theft valued under $500.

National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said he completely rejected that.

"The crime has to have been committed ... for it to be reported," Mitchell said.

He told Morning Report he believed crime that had been unreported remained unreported.

"We cannot escape the fact that retail crime has increased.

"I think you're seeing definitely an increase in violent crime and aggravated robberies, ram raids, and I think that if you talk to retailers, shop owners, they would tell you that one of their big challenges now is their employees not feeling safe and them not feeling safe in their own businesses."

The government rolled out a $6 million Crime Prevention Fund in May 2022, which included funds to install bollards or other protection structures.

In November, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also announced a $4 million fund to support local council crime prevention programmes to be matched dollar-for-dollar with councils.

A $4000 subsidy for small shops and dairies to install a fog cannon was part of the additional package.

And the Retail Crime Prevention Fund was expanded to include aggravated robberies committed in the past year.

Things like fog cannons - while needed - were bandaids on the symptoms, Mitchell said. He said he had heard from some retailers "they've lost complete confidence in this government".

The government was "soft on crime", he said.

"What they want to see is they want to see safer communities. They don't want these youth and juvenile offenders feeling like they can operate with impunity in ... what's been created in a very permissive environment for them.

"They want to see serious consequences... they want the government to show that actually they take public safety seriously and that they can go to work without the fear of being attacked."

Nash said more than 2000 security interventions were put in place to help retailers. He rejected the National Party's statement that the government was soft on crime.

Retail New Zealand chief executive Greg Harford told Midday Report a greater police presence at retail centres or infringement notice for low level offences may reduce the crime rate.

"We also need to make sure police have got the tools they need to be able to process retail crime issues effectively and efficiently."

Retail New Zealand said it had been encouraging retailers to report crime to police and there probably had been some increase in reporting as well as increase in crime.

"For a long time there was the view that police wouldn't deal with it so there was no point in reporting it. There are some new tools that make that easier."

Data released to RNZ under the Official Information Act showed in two years there has been a 465 percent increase in ram raids.

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