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Rise in crime at the supermarket

The region’s supermarket staff are having to deal with alarming volumes of abuse, assault and theft, meaning security measures will likely be scaled up in the near future.

According to data released to the Times-Age by police, more than 250 incidents at Wairarapa’s supermarkets were reported to police between 2022 and 2023.

Incidents reported to police included verbal and physical abuse towards staff and other customers, theft, trespass notices, customers observably drunk or under other influences and people begging other customers for money and becoming aggressive.

There were also multiple incidents involving weapons [including hammers being wielded and one case of a crossbow] and threatening comments, with one offender in a report yelling that she was “going to blow up all the supermarkets”.

The supermarket with the most incidents reported to police was Masterton’s New World, which had 96 events logged with police between November 2022 and November 2023.

During the same time, Masterton’s Pak’nSave supermarket reported 76 incidents, and Countdown reported 49.

Carterton’s New World reported 28 incidents to police, FreshChoice in Featherston [previously Supervalue] and Greytown reported seven incidents each, and Martinborough’s Pain and Kershaw had only one report of shoplifting.

Wairarapa Police area prevention manager, Senior Sergeant Gill Flower, said that the region’s total of 264 police incidents included the less frequent times where police were required to assist on-site and cases where an event was reported after it had taken place.

“Staff at Masterton’s New World are especially on to it with noticing behaviour that isn’t consistent with shopping,” Flower said.

“They always have a slightly higher youth issue due to being next to the public pools, and get hit horribly in school holiday time.”

She said that police generally recommended that supermarket staff let offenders go and then make a report to the police rather than enter a confrontational situation where they might be assaulted.

When it came to stealing, Flower said the cost of living played a large part.

“I think with people closer to the breadline than we’ve ever had before, I would say half are doing it for the sake of food, unfortunately, and others do it to pay off drug debts,” Flower said.

She urged supermarkets to keep reporting any cases of retail crime, recommending crime prevention software Auror.

“We can’t help if we don’t know,” Flower said.

“Auror is a great tool, as it collates offenders on a real-time basis and notifies police and other retailers in the area.”

Aware that some Foodstuffs supermarkets in the North Island have begun a trial using facial recognition software – but not aware of any stores in Wairarapa currently engaged in the trial – Flower said the resource could be an amazing tool in crime prevention.

“In loss prevention, you need every bit of help you can get,” Flower said.

“People worry about being monitored when they shouldn’t be – rightly so to a certain degree – but if you’ve done nothing wrong, then it won’t save your picture.”

A spokesperson for Foodstuffs [the co-operative behind New World and Pak’nSave] said in the last quarter of 2023, Foodstuffs North Island saw 4,719 incidents of retail crime reported across our store network, an increase of 52 per cent on the previous quarter.

“On average, the co-op is seeing 14 serious incidents a week across the North Island,” he said.

“Our stores are locally owned and operated, with each store implementing its own security measures, which may involve the use of security personnel, CCTV and trespassing offenders.”

Elaborating on this, he said the facial recognition trial would establish if the software could help keep teams and customers safe without compromising their privacy.

“When preparing the trial, we’ve been very thorough in ensuring we respect the privacy of our customers, including having a specialist, independent organisation design and review the trial which will also evaluate the results,” he said.

“We’ve also engaged with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to ensure they’re well briefed and aware of how the trial will work.”

He noted that a list of supermarkets trialling facial recognition software was listed on Foodstuffs’ website, which currently does not include any Wairarapa stores.

Woolworths NZ [Countdown and FreshChoice] is also upping its security measures, investing a whopping $45 million over the next three years.

During the past six years, a Woolworths spokesperson said security incidents had increased by more than 800 per cent.

They said the measures introduced nationwide in the coming months would include 30 additional trolley lock systems, new camera technology at self-checkouts, and double entry gates being installed.

However, when it came to Masterton’s Countdown store, the spokesperson said that the majority of police callouts were related to trespass notices and shoplifting incidents.

“They have seen very few altercations and disorderly conduct,” they said.

“Overall, they are not alarmed or concerned about their number of callouts.

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Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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