Foodstuffs data reveals violent retail crime doubled in North Island stores

New data released by supermarket giant Foodstuffs reveals violent and aggressive offences, which include assault and harassment on staff, has doubled in its North Island stores in the first three months of this year compared to the previous quarter. 

In the first quarter, 5124 incidents have been reported across 320 of its New World, PAK'nSAVE and Four Square stores - that's up 56 percent compared to the same time last year. 

Foodstuffs North Island's General Counsel and Company Secretary Julian Benefield told AM on Wednesday the rise in crime was "a significant concern". 

"Of major concern to us is the doubling of the assault and harassment… and we're again seeing around a third of all incidents are caused by repeat offenders," he said. 

"We care deeply about our store team members and so we want to highlight the retail crime challenges that they're seeing every day. 

"We at Foodstuffs have moral and legal duties to keep our people safe and they deserve to return home safe every day, that's why we need to do more to keep them safe." 

But it's not just aggressive crime - all offences, including theft, is on the rise. 

There were 3651 separate theft offences, up 9.6 percent on the previous quarter, as well as by 600 breaches of trespass notices and store bans, up 17 percent on the previous quarter. 

The supermarkets will continue using CCTV, security personnel, and violence and aggression training to keep on top of crime. 

But Foodstuffs is also trialling facial recognition in 25 of its New World and PAK'nSAVE stores in the North Island.  

There will be three or four cameras in each store, specifically looking for repeat offenders by comparing against repeat offenders in a database. 

Regular customers images will be immediately deleted, meanwhile there will be "a robust process" to confirm a repeat offender is in breach, Benefield said. 

Nine out of 10 people said they were supportive or don't have a problem with it, a Foodstuffs survey has revealed. It also found customer support for facial recognition increased when people were more informed. 

"We are particularly focused on keeping repeat offenders out of our stores to stop them from doing more harm to our store team and customers," Benefield said. 

"The emotional toll on team members in relation to some of these serious incidents, or even just the threat of those incidents, and the impact on their fellow team members is immense and that's why we're doing what we can at targeting repeat offenders." 

Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin hoped the move would stop "hardcore" repeat offenders, which made up 33 percent of incidents. 

"We're talking about a hardcore set of offenders who repeatedly target retailers, even if they've previously been banned, and who think nothing of walking out without paying for goods, and then get hostile if confronted, as we've seen time and time again, and shown in the numerous CCTV clips we've shared publicly," he said in a statement. 

"Dishonesty and aggression are sadly inter-related. We don't want people who behave this way in our stores putting our customers and teams at risk. Given the nature of what's being stolen, our security teams believe a lot of what they're seeing is people stealing to order or for on selling." 

While Quin admitted it was "worrying", he said they're not the only ones copping it. 

"It is, of course, part of the bigger picture of an ongoing epidemic of retail crime. We're seeing it, and other retailers are too. The stats showing crime in our co-op's stores has doubled within two years speaks volumes. It mustn't be allowed to continue.  

"We're also working hard to support those who need some assistance accessing food, with our stores partnering with foodbanks and food rescue organisations. We've opened 11 social supermarkets around the North Island and have plans to open more." 

However, Benefield said: "Cost of living is not a key driver for this spike in retail crime based on what our security experts tell us." 

He added that drivers of retail crime was organised crime - people stealing to on-sell - as well as addiction and notoriety on social media. 

"They're targeting high value items and then reselling it."