That’s how much the offending costs each year in New Zealand – affecting business owners and staff and ultimately customers, who face increased prices to cover these costs.
Assistant Commissioner for iwi and communities Chris de Wattignar admits it is a complex puzzle that Police cannot solve alone. “We see the distress that retail crime and ram raid-style burglaries and robberies cause retailers and communities… We need a co-ordinated partnership approach with agencies, communities, iwi, and social service providers working together to prevent this offending.”
The brazen exploits of “ram raiders” are widely covered on news feeds, on air and all over social media almost every day. No wonder, when figures released by Police at the end of March show ram raids – not an actual offence under law – went from an average of 13 a month in 2017 to nearly 74 a month in 2022.
But they’re not the only criminals routinely targeting Kiwi businesses.
A small police team in Federal St in Auckland has spent the past year amassing 1000 retail crime charges against 178 of the most prolific, recidivist offenders who steal from shops – particularly those who use violence or aggression.
Included in this number are the two most prolific retail offenders in the country who racked up 82 charges between them for more than $300,000 in theft, says Matt Tierney, manager of the National Retail Investigation Support Unit (NRISU).
“It’s a great feeling to know we’ve laid these charges and stopped these people from causing harm in our communities.”
Matt’s team of seven – supervisor Sergeant Matthew Murray, three investigators, an intelligence support officer, an administration support officer and Matt, who is a former senior sergeant – started with nothing. “We started from scratch and wrote documents around desk files and the processes and how we were going to interact with districts.
“June 1 last year, is really when we kind of started getting some traction.”
NRISU partners with the retail sector and crime prevention organisations to draw on data, identify patterns and work with district staff to hold high-harm offenders to account.
Matt paints a picture of your typical prolific shoplifter: “They are late 20s to mid to late 30s. Pretty much 50-50, male to female. Unfortunately, Māori are really over-represented. They are about 52% of our client base, and Pākehā are about 38%.” They are also “brand loyal”, he says. A Countdown or Bunnings thief doesn’t hit Pak'nSave or Mitre 10.
“The ones that we focus on are people that are offering threats and violence to the frontline staff. That was one of the key reasons the retail sector wanted the unit – violence, threats, intimidation was going unchecked towards frontline retail staff.
“For us to investigate somebody they have to have been abusive, assaultive towards those people. So not only do they have to have had 16-plus offences in the past 90 days, they need to have had the element of abuse or intimidation.”
NRISU also has no geographical boundaries, says Matt. “We're all about presenting a borderless approach to the judges. They might get from out of our records, an offender covering five different districts – says Waikato, Counties Manukau, Auckland, Waitematā and Northland. Never before have police given the judiciary that level of a total offending picture. We were very piecemeal, and still very district-based [with charges], even though we’re one police force.”
Because the holistic nature of the offending is put in front of a judge, NRISU gets much better remand-in-custody and bail conditions – well above 30%. “That can go against us in sentencing because they can get time served. But, either way, they're still being removed from the community and unable to continue offending whilst they've been restricted in their movements.”
Buy-in from districts is essential and NRISU does that face to face to highlight retail crime issues relevant to their regions and, perhaps more importantly for those on the ground, having files prosecution ready. “Our goal is to make the file as simple as possible, with as little amount of work for them. So we will do it, right the way up to prosecution standard. We’ll even write charge wordings, we’ll do search warrants, all in draft form, summaries. The whole file is all in one place electronically, they don't have to convert CCTV to a different format so they can watch it.
“We got some feedback recently from an Auckland City tactical crime detective sergeant saying that it's the easiest file he's ever worked on, and the easiest charges he’s ever had to lay.
“The feedback that I value the most is really from those frontline guys, to say they’re able to action charges in the middle of the night, or I found this easy or whatever, that's when I think we are really winning,” says Matt.
Those triumphs also help get traction with retailers, where productive, information-sharing relationships have been formed with a focus on partnership and prevention.
“The only way to prevent [offending] is to make it significantly harder for crime to occur. So that's where I enjoy and spend most of my time. The flow-on effect of that is less demand on the frontline. I spend a lot of time with the medium and large business owners in New Zealand, and the executives in those companies, with a focus on guidance around prevention activities.
“It's quite rare to be dealing withpartners who are just keen to getamongst it, take some guidance, work together collaboratively… they're sharing their toys, they're sharing CCTV cameras, they’re sharing knowledge, they’re sharing a whole bunch of stuff. These are all good things.
“I think the value that we're adding for the retailers and the level of safety that they feel, knowing that we are actually doing something, is worth just as much as it is holding offenders to account.”
Matt says NRISU is “punching above its weight” but he is also the first to admit the work his unit focuses on is a “tiny proportion of what police do as a whole – there’s a significant amount of serious other crime”.
“But, as long as we're producing the results, and everyone’s happy, then we'll keep on going.”
Police News June 2023Police News MagazineNZPA