Countdown looking to trial body cams after stabbing

Four people were injured in a stabbing at a Dunedin Countdown on Monday.
Four people were injured in a stabbing at a Dunedin Countdown on Monday. Photo credit: Getty Images

Countdown is looking to trial body cameras on retail staff following a stabbing at their Dunedin stores on Monday afternoon.

Four people were injured, three critically and one seriously, in the attack where witnesses described seeing victims covered in blood and members of the public attempting to pin down the alleged stabber. 

General manager of safety at Countdown Kiri Hannifan says the abuse Countdown staff across the country receive on a daily basis keeps her up at night. 

"We would have assaults against our team every day in our business. It has got significantly worse since the level 4 lockdown last year where we saw, during those few weeks, a 600 percent increase in violence towards our team.

"[There have been] threats to kill, threats of abuse, terrible, terrible abuse, every day. It's been a very, very tough 18 months for our team in New Zealand." 

She says getting the phone call alerting her to the stabbing was "absolutely gut-wrenching and very painful" because of how worried she and coworkers have been about violence towards their team. 

For the past two years, Hannifin says she has been working with police on how to de-escalate conflict and manage the risks of assaults and abuse in stores. 

"It kinda feels pretty awful to also have to train our team every day to keep themselves safe when they feel nothing but a deep love for our customers and our communities." 

In April, Countdown's Australian counterpart, Woolworths began trialling body cameras aimed at protecting staff from abuse. 

"Our business in Australia are doing that [body cams] and it's been really successful so far which is great and I guess why it's good is because it can record verbal abuse." 

According to Hannifin, verbal abuse including threats, racism and verbal sexual abuse is "probably the most common sort of abuse" Countdown staff face. 

"So [body] cameras capture that [verbal abuse]. Our CCTV cameras don't capture oral kind of communication so that's good."

She says the cameras, which are attached to staff members' uniforms and turned on when necessary, are working to combat abuse across the Tasman. 

"What we're seeing in Australia is that it's actually deterring assaults and de-escalating events so that's fantastic." 

The rising levels of abuse coupled with the success of Australia's trial is now prompting Kiwi stores to look to take similar action: "We will absolutely look to trial that in New Zealand in our most sort of high-risk stores." 

For now though, the supermarket chain is focussing on the victims of Monday's stabbing. 

"We are focussing on the wellbeing of our team who are in hospital and their families, but also the team in the store who witnessed it and are deeply traumatised and beside themselves. We're like family.

"And of course it's absolutely devastating that customers were injured while they were shopping."

In a statement earlier on Monday, Countdown managing director Spencer Spoon said the company was "shocked" to hear of the stabbing. 

"Our priority right now is our injured team members and caring for our wider team in the wake of this extremely traumatic event. We are deeply upset that customers who tried to help our team members were also injured.

"We have been concerned about the escalating violence towards our team, and this is something we have continued to talk and raise as an issue over the last year."

Hannifin says 99 percent of Countdown's customers are "beautiful, kind and good" but pleads with the public to think about the person behind their local supermarket counter. 

"There's obviously lots more that all of us - and by that I mean society - need to do to make sure that workplaces in New Zealand, like retail outlets, are safe for people to shop in and work in."

She asks customers to think about "all the mums and dads and sisters who work for us, and all the families who love them. And to think these are real people with real lives and real big hearts and actually, when we're rude to our checkout operators we are really really hurting people and their wellbeing." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a post-Cabinet meeting press conference on Monday that the police's initial assessment is that the stabbing is not terror related, but she wants to give them the time to assess it.

She says there are some early indications of what may have contributed to the incident, but says is waiting for police to give an update later.