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Retail sector workers at high risk of facing robbery

NZ Security Magazine, December 2017

A surge in violent robberies across New Zealand has retail workers exposed.A surge in violent robberies across New Zealand has retail workers exposed.


According to a March 2017 Retail NZ media release, retail crime costs New Zealand around $1 billion a year in losses, and official robbery statistics indicate that the problem is getting worse.


On 2 October, reported that the 375 robberies committed in July this year compare with 353 in the same month last year, and 253 in July 2015 – an increase of nearly 50 percent in just two years.

According to Greg Harford, Retail NZ's General Manager for Public Affairs, “Retail crime is a serious problem for retailers, consumers and the economy as a whole.”

"Retailers are already working to prevent and deter crime, but retail crime is growing, becoming more menacing and more violent,” he said. “Criminal gangs are increasingly active in retail crime, and urgent steps are needed to deal with this societal problem.”

Retail NZ called on the then National Government to adopt a three-point action plan to help stop criminal offending, including (i) the establishment of a national Retail Crime Taskforce within the Police; (ii) a social change programme to encourage respect for the law; and (iii) the introduction of an infringement notice penalty regime for petty offences.


Police responsiveness

“There is a real issue around Police responsiveness to retail crime,” stated Mr Harford. According to Retail NZ, the establishment of a Retail Crime Taskforce within the Police would be “an essential first step to ensure that the Police is in a position to respond effectively to retail crime.”

In the meantime, retailers are having to fill the gap left by poor police responsiveness. According to Bruce Couper, Managing Director of RISQ New Zealand, a provider of advice and training to businesses in the protection of people, assets and information, “this is often the case in many, many locations across New Zealand.”

“Police responsiveness is very hit-and-miss,” he told NZSM. “More often than not the feedback is it’s a waste of time, we don’t call them because they don’t turn up.”

Bruce has a better understanding of this than most. Apart from the feedback he receives from the retail companies Risq provides consultancy services and training to, he spent 11 years in the New Zealand Police in a range of uniformed duty roles and as a Detective.

In one case, he was told of an incident in a supermarket where police were called after a member of the public had become threatening and aggressive. After 45 minutes, staff had convinced the individual to leave the store. The police never showed up.

“Their lack of response, particularly in retail, is often so much the case that as a result people are placed at risk because offenders feel absolutely emboldened as a result of their lack of response,” he said.


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Anti-social behavior

Mr Harford says that retail crime is part of a broader social problem relating to anti-social behaviour.

“There is a perception in some parts of the community that theft and other anti-social behaviour is acceptable, but we need to be teaching everyone in society that it is important to respect both people - and property,” he said. “A social change programme is needed to generate understanding that theft is simply not acceptable.”

Bruce concurs that anti-social behavior is a problem, stating that there exists a general lack of respect for both people and property.

“There seems to be almost an upward J-curve of people that because of information technology or other issues don’t have the interpersonal communication skills, and their sense of entitlement is extraordinarily high,” he said. “And then we throw in a few other factors including alcohol, synthetic drugs and methamphetamines, which are huge drivers for this sort of behavior.

“Because of the aforementioned lack of responsiveness, there’s kind of an expectation that you can get away with it. It’s happening more and more frequently. The problems today are so much greater and in much greater volumes.”

Retail NZ is calling for new penalties for retail crime that treats theft committed by organised crime groups seriously, but that at the same time recognises “that many people drift into organised crime gangs because they have been able to get away with petty theft without any consequences.”

“Prosecutions through the Courts are cumbersome, and we therefore propose the introduction of an infringement- style offence for petty theft,” Mr Harford said. “This will ensure that there are real consequences for people starting their life of crime, and act as a deterrent to repeat offending.


Dairies the soft underbelly

A feature of the recent increase in retail robberies is that many involve the use of weapons, such as firearms and machetes, and dairy and petrol station operators in particular are bearing the brunt.

“Aggravated robberies are a real concern for retailers, particularly those operating in the small convenience store sector,” stated Mr Harford. “These small stores… have been increasingly targeted by aggressive and sometimes armed criminals seeking to make off with high value goods.”

In a June media release, Retail NZ has welcomed the Government's announcement of a $1.8 million fund to help small high-risk retail businesses combat aggravated robberies. Costs are to be shared between ‘high risk’ dairy owners and the police. As of early October, 54 had signed up.

The measures include ultrasonic frequencies in which robbers are bombarded with four frequencies at 124 decibels; fog cannons designed to fill a shop with disorienting mist within 60 seconds; and a ‘DNA spray’, which is invisible to the naked eye but visible under ultra-violet light and impossible to wash off.

“I think that any measures they take are positive,” commented Bruce, “but what this really relates to is the robberies of dairies, and a lot of organisations we deal with in banking and some other sectors have actually reduced in the past 20-25 years.

“Let’s look at what has been successful in some environments and what can be successful in others. And one of those things is lessening the reward – making it effectively less available.”

“The increased violence against dairies has been solely in that sector,” Bruce explained. “The robberies increase because they are open for very long hours, they have little or no security, and they tend to be completely blacked out at the front.”

“A good start would be to take a fish bowl approach, in other words, take all the posters down so that you can see out and so that people can see in, thus making it a less attractive proposition for a robber in the first place, and combine that with internal and external cameras so that you can see out on to the street both ways and make it publically known that you do with your domes.

“All of a sudden, you’re in a totally different marketplace in terms of street robberies – you’re a way harder target.”

According to Bruce, a reason why the level of violence by offenders against convenience store operators has gone through the roof is that offenders going to those premises knowing or believing before they get there that “they’re going to meet resistance or they’re not going to get access to the cash…”

“If you’re going to decide that you are going to respond in kind to defend the money then the violence is going to go through the roof, so you’re going to have to target harden a lot more than you currently are.

“In my experience, with one or two very minor exceptions historically, people who are trained to facilitate the robbery and give the offender access to what’s immediately available don’t get hurt.”


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