Retailers eye high-tech surveillance to head off violence

9:44 pm on 6 September 2021

Facial recognition and body cameras could be on the horizon for shop staffers after Friday's terror attacks and increasing in-store aggression.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Armed police guard Lynmall Countdown the morning after a suspected terrorist attack on September 04, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Photo: 2021 Getty Images

Seven people were injured at the New Lynn Countdown and the terrorist was shot dead by police, and in a separate incident four people were stabbed in a Dunedin supermarket in May.

Greg Harford, chief executive of Retail NZ, said that problems with hostile customers are on the rise.

"What we've been seeing over the last few years has been an increase in aggression and outright violence by customers or other members of the public towards retail staff," he told Checkpoint.

"The tragic incident on Friday was probably the worst that we've seen but it is part of a broader picture of really antisocial behaviour that we're seeing in retail."

Among the problems workers are seeing are abuse, bullying, spitting and assaults.

"Everyone who works in retail should be able to go to work every day, feel safe at work every day, and go home safe," Harford said.

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Photo: 123rf

While technology like facial recognition and body cameras aren't being rolled out at the corner dairy just yet, Harford said they are tools that could help.

"A key issue is that many of the people who are engaging in antisocial behaviour in the stores are repeat offenders if you like.

"I think if there was a good information sharing between retailers and good systems that would flag up people of concern then it makes it much easier for in-store staff to a, be aware that there's a potential problem and b, manage it.

Body cameras also offer a level of immediate supervision that may stop some from lashing out.

"People do tend to be a little more restrained when they realise they're immediately on camera."

Asked if there's a worry about the 'Big Brother' aspect of such technology being used at local shops, Harford said it may be a necessary evil.

"Nobody wants to be in a world where we need to have these sort of technologies in play.

"It's not an ideal situation but the reality is that retail workers, retail managers need to be able to go to work and stay safe."

There have been questions about the use of facial recognition technology by New Zealand Police.

Harford said that these technologies could be used alongside other existing methods to manage the issue, including more visible security staff.

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