Retail crime: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins acknowledges business owners 'have reason' to be 'fearful'

  • 23/05/2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says business owners "have reason" to be "fearful" given the level of retail crime offending.

The impact of retail crime on small businesses is back in the headlines after a west Auckland post shop owner this week announced she is closing her store after being repeatedly targeted by thieves. The store, which has been operating for 20 years, has been burgled seven times over the past five years.

Speaking to NewstalkZB on Tuesday morning, Hipkins said it is "undeniable we are experiencing a spike in retail offending". 

"It isn't acceptable and it is not acceptable behaviour and it is also not acceptable from the victim's perspective," Hipkins said. "They shouldn't have to put up with that. Those business owners shouldn't have to be fearful in their own businesses."

Host Kerre Woodham interjected to say they are.

"And they are at the moment," Hipkins continued. "They have reason to be because I think we've all seen the news and we've all seen what's happening there. We do have to do more in that space."

The Prime Minister said the issue needed to be tackled from "both ends".

"Kids need to face the consequences for the actions of what they have been doing, but we've also got to get underneath the underlying causes of that."

He said he didn't want to see young ram raiders have their lives written off. 

"I still think we can turn those lives around," Hipkins said. 

But it can be difficult intervening and removing those children from those environments, Hipkins said. 

"We know where we have done that in the past, where the state has done that in the past, significant injustices often occurred as a result of that," Hipkins said, but he acknowledged we can learn from the mistakes of the past.

He said some of the "turnaround" initiatives the Government has supported have been effective.

In Budget 2023, the Government announced it was expanding a 'circuit breaker' programme targeting recidivist child offenders into Hamilton, Christchurch and Auckland City. 

The initiative is currently used in Counties Manukau and Waitākere, with only 28 percent of those referred having to be referred again. 

Hipkins was the Police Minister before becoming Prime Minister in January. He said he took on that role as ram raids peaked in the middle of last year.

"Every morning, I would wake up thinking what are we going to confront today. I can only imagine what that feels like from the victim's perspective, who are waking up to the reality of that offending. It is heartbreaking."

He said some young children are offending for the "notoriety" on social media and ignore the punishments.

Speaking to AM on Tuesday morning, Hipkins said the situation with ram raids and aggravated robberies was "utterly unacceptable" and something "the Government takes very seriously".

Aboli Bhave, the shop owner who is closing her store in Auckland's Titirangi, told AM a ram raid in April was the "final straw". She said she and her staff don't feel safe in the store anymore.

In a statement following Hipkins' and Bhave's AM interviews, National justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith called it a "sad day for New Zealand". He said the high levels of crime are devastating for victims, but also hurting the economy. 

"When retail businesses are considering closing down because they fear for their safety, that is hurting New Zealand’s productivity," he said.

"National knows that it is only through a strong economy that we can lift incomes, deal with the cost-of-living crisis, reduce interest rates and deliver the public services Kiwis deserve."

Police data from April shows there were 51 ram raids in March, up from 41 in February. 

The number of ram raids in March was down on the number being recorded monthly for most of 2022, but well above that being recorded pre-pandemic.

Retail crime isn't just limited to ram raids. Data released by National in March showed retail crime had increased by 39 percent over the year prior.

Other police data shows the number of burglaries and thefts committed nationally between April 2022 and March 2023 was well up on the year prior, though that isn't limited to retail offending.

The Government's taken several steps to try and address retail crime, including with its scheme to subsidise stores to install bollards, fog cannons and other security measures.

The Government said last month that more than 1000 interventions had been installed. It pumped an additional $9 million into the programme, taking it to a total of $15 million.

Police Minister Ginny Andersen also said earlier this month that the fog cannon subsidy scheme's 500th fog cannon had been installed at a store in Lower Hutt. More than 1300 businesses had been approved for a fog cannon.