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NZ retailers turn to facial recognition to stem surge in crime

NZ retailers turn to facial recognition to stem surge in crime
 

Retail crime has surged in New Zealand, with the latest Survey report published by industry group Retail NZ citing the annual cost of retail crime at a staggering NZ$2.6 billion (roughly US$1.5 billion). Retail crime is also on the rise in Australia, with the Japan Times reporting an estimated AU$10 billion loss ($6.4 billion) in the year for both Australia and New Zealand combined.

Just like in other places, notably including Britain, rising retail theft has motivated adoption of facial recognition.

The Retail NZ report details New Zealand’s annual losses with an estimated NZ$1.3 billion loss ($774.8 million) due to shoplifting and internal crime. External crime, including burglary, accounted for a loss of around NZ$1.1 billion ($655.6 million).

Retail NZ’s report reveals that 92 percent of retailers surveyed fell victim to crime in the past year, with an increase in violent and brazen attacks.

Experts attribute the surge in retail crime to a myriad of factors. While many associate increased thefts with the cost-of-living crisis, another significant factor is an increasing trend among young people to steal for social media notoriety, observers say. Organized crime, where items are stolen to order by career criminals, also plays a significant role. According to Phil Thomson, the CEO and co-founder of Auror, a retail crime intelligence platform, 60 percent of thefts are committed by individuals who make a living out of it.

Another contributing factor cited by retailers in the survey is the lack of adequate deterrents for thieves. According to one survey respondent, “Police are understaffed and do not prioritize retail crime. There is little in the way of deterrent as the crime is considered minor now.”

In light of these escalating crime rates, businesses in New Zealand and Australia are revamping their security measures. Many are turning to technology solutions like rooftop sensors, automatic gates at self-checkouts, and facial recognition software, Japan Times reports. Other preventive measures include the installation of bollards to deter ram raids. The focus is not only on the theft but also on the safety of the employees. Retailers have expressed concerns about providing a secure environment for their staff amid the rise in crime.

In its survey report recommendations, Retail NZ urges the government to cooperate closely with retailers to address the issue. They are advocating for the introduction of facial recognition and automated number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to counteract crime in the sector and for the imposition of stricter penalties for individuals who assault retail workers.

The use of face biometrics by major retailers in neighboring Australia has already prompted scrutiny from that country’s Information Commissioner.

New Zealand’s government has taken several measures, such as the introduction in 2022 of support for affected small retailers, using revenue collected by the Proceeds of Crime Fund. The Retail Crime Prevention Program assists victims of ram raids or aggravated robberies to access protective equipment and crime-prevention advice. Alongside this, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment introduced a Fog Cannon Subsidy Scheme in 2022, where smaller retailers can access funds to help install the crime protection and deterrence tool.

New Zealand’s opposition National Party is pointing fingers at soft penalties for shoplifting and proposes military-style boot camps to curtail the “tsunami of retail offending.” The impact of retail crime will likely play a significant role in New Zealand’s upcoming general elections.

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