Foodstuffs NI says crime recorded at its stores has doubled

Foodstuffs NI says crime recorded at its stores has doubled

Total retail crime incidents at Foodstuffs North Island’s stores reached 5,124 in Q1 2024 (Jan to March 2024) 

  • Data shows reported incidents have doubled within two years at the grocery co-op’s stores 
  • Violent and aggressive offences (assault, harassment) double on previous quarter 
  • Facial recognition (FR) trial continues across 25 Foodstuffs North Island stores 
  • Survey shows customer support for FR increases when they’re more informed  

The total amount of retail crime recorded at Foodstuffs North Island’s 300+ New World, PAK’nSAVE and Four Square stores has more than doubled within two years, latest data from the 100% New Zealand owned and operated grocery co-operative shows. 

Total incidents recorded by the co-op climbed to 5,124 in the January-March 2024 quarter – a record high after the 4,719 incidents that were recorded in the previous quarter of October-December 2023 (up 9%) and the 3,510 incidents recorded in the July-September 2023 quarter (up 46%). 

The 5,124 incidents recorded in the first quarter of this year is up 56% on the 3,285 recorded in February-April 2023, and more than double (up 116%) the 2,377 recorded in February-April 2022.   

Theft again dominated the latest quarter’s total, with 3,651 separate offences (up 9.6% on the previous quarter), followed by 600 breaches of trespass notices and store bans (up 17% on the previous quarter).

But it was offences involving violence and aggression that increased the most, with assaults almost doubling to 60 (up 94% on the previous quarter), while cases of harassment doubled to 26 (up 100% on the previous quarter). 

Chief Executive of Foodstuffs North Island, Chris Quin, says the rise in violence and aggression in the latest quarter is a big concern. 

“For cases of assault and harassment in our co-op’s stores to now be double what they were in both of the previous two quarters is very worrying,” Quin says. “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.”  

Consistent with the previous two quarters, repeat offenders accounted for a third (33%) of all offences in January – March of this year. 

“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.”  

“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,” says Quin.   

“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” – he added. 

Facial recognition trial continues  

Foodstuffs North Island is now three months into its six-month long trial of facial recognition (FR) at 25 of its New World and PAK’nSAVE stores. Foodstuffs hopes the trial will determine if the technology’s ability to better identify repeat offenders can help keep its people and customers safe without compromising their privacy. 

FR works by matching the faces of people who enter a store against that store’s record of offenders, usually people who have been trespassed for serious incidents or repeat offences, and their accomplices. The store’s own FR system must detect a facial match of at least 90%, before two specially trained team members receive the information. They both need to agree it’s a match before the information is acted on. 

Julian Benefield, Foodstuffs North Island’s General Counsel, says a survey of 452 customers who shop at the stores trialling FR found most were supportive, especially once they knew the facts. 

“When shoppers read a short explanation of why and how we’re trialling facial recognition, nine out of 10 people said they were supportive or don’t have a problem with it” says Benefield. 

The survey also asked questions about feeling safe and showed that once informed about the trial, 45% of customers said they felt safer having FR instore. 

“What that survey shows is that building public awareness really makes shoppers more likely to appreciate that we’re not only trying to make our stores safer workplaces but also safer places for them to shop, while also doing everything we can to respect their privacy and dignity.” 

Benefield says on the whole, the trial is progressing well, under the close scrutiny of an independent evaluator and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. 

“Feedback from store owners and teams taking part in the trial is that they are noticing a reduction in retail crime with repeat offenders being less aggressive when approached and that generally their staff are telling them they feel safer while at work.” 

“That said, with over 850 FR notifications generated by our trial stores, we already have some lessons from one reported case of misidentification.  Where we’ve made a mistake, we’ve owned it by putting things right, including providing additional training to team members and the local owner apologising in person to the misidentified customer.” 

“We’re constantly learning as the trial progresses but what’s clear is that the technology is just one part of the process. The skills and experience of our people are integral, which is why we’ve got a big focus on training and continuous learning. If a customer has a poor experience at one of our trial stores, we ask that they contact store management directly, or call our contact centre, so we can log it as part of the trial and make amends if necessary.” 

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