Retail crime unit won't investigate ram-raids, police say

Source: 1News

The manager of a police unit established to tackle retail crime says it won't specifically investigate the ongoing spate of ram-raids happening around the country.

The store was robbed in the early hours of May 17.

The national retail investigation support unit (NRISU) was announced in November, to address concerns raised by the retail sector which reports growing concerns over retail offending.

It comes as the Government is being pressed to address the spike in ram-raids that businesses are facing.

But manager of the unit, Matt Tierney, told 1News “the NRISU has a broad focus on retail offending, particularly shoplifting, and does not specifically investigate ram-raid-style burglaries”.

It comes as police on Monday said in a statement the unit had only recruited managers, not "core staff" - six months after the agency was announced.

But later on Tuesday evening police sent another statement, Tierney saying "the hiring process for the further core staff mentioned yesterday is nearly complete, as most of the core staff roles were filled as of last week".

"The team is operational, and includes three investigators, an Intelligence Officer, admin staff member, supervisor, and a manager. This is a mix of sworn officers and police employees."

Tierney said addressing ram-raids is done by the Criminal Investigation Branch in each district.

"That being said, the public can expect police to continue investigating ram-raids and holding offenders to account. Since 2017, police have apprehended 40% of offenders for this crime type.

"The scope of the NRISU, outlined when it was announced last year, is to address patterns of high priority repeat retail offending across the country.

"It works collaboratively with Retail NZ and a number of prominent retail chains and smaller businesses to work to address retail crime as a whole," Tierney said.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said on Monday he expects to announce more support for the retail sector next week that would likely be funded by the Proceeds of Crimes Act.

Police say the big piece of machinery was stolen from a nearby construction site.

When asked by 1News on Tuesday why the unit has taken so long to establish, Police Minister, Poto Williams said "you'd have to ask the police that".

She said she does expect it to become a much bigger unit but said it was already working alongside Retail NZ.

Tierney said last week a high-profile prolific offender, "one of the first main people of interest to the unit, was arrested in Wellington. The 29-year-old woman faces 18 shoplifting charges and was remanded on bail to reappear on 31 May in the Wellington District Court.

“Identifying, locating, and holding such offenders to account is one of the focuses of the Unit, and other offending and offenders are being actively investigated,” he said.

READ MORE: Ram-raiders hit two South Auckland premises

In March, in a series of written parliamentary questions, National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell asked Williams about the unit's progress.

Williams said she was advised that the unit "has a manager and a supervisor" currently in place.

"There are an additional five roles still to be recruited. As the recruitment processes are underway, further information cannot be disclosed at this time," she said at the time.

When asked how many arrests or investigations have been carried out by the unit, Williams referred only to the recruitment process that was underway.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford told 1News he's been asking police to establish a retail crime unit for some time.

"As a country we need to look at how we can stop crime in its tracks, this includes combating low level theft, the unfortunate accepted level of abuse and violence Kiwis throw at retailers to the more ‘news grabbing’ incidents of ram-raids.

"The cost of retail crime is having a significant impact on retailers across the country, we approximate at least a $1 billion impact each year. This cost comes out of the bottom line of retailers and is putting significant financial and mental health strain on the sector.

"We know from the sector that retail crime has multiple ways that it shows itself to retailers daily, one type of crime should not be the priority over another. All crimes against retailers should have a zero tolerance and support to combat it.

"It is the view of Retail NZ more work can be done in that space to support the sector. We welcome any cross party commitment to law and order funding or initiatives that will support retailers on the issue of retail crime," he said.

In a statement, police said that while ram-raids are not new there has been a spike in young people committing burglaries with vehicles used to gain entry to facilities.

Mitchell says amid a 31% increase in retail crime, routine police responses or other routine investigations are addressing the spate of malicious attacks on retail businesses, not the unit that was set up in November.

"Businesses and retailers are scared, fed up and fatigued by incessant and devastating ram-raids," he told 1News.

"It's another example of this Labour Government failing to deliver. It has taken six months to get to this point, I'm sceptical of how effective that unit will actually be.

"A seven-person retail crime unit, bollards and planter boxes won't stop a seven tonne excavator smashing through the front of a business," Mitchell said, referring to Monday's ram-raid on a BP service station in Wainuiomata.

Williams and Mitchell sparred in Parliament's question time on Tuesday over polices' capability to stop an excavator from ram-raiding a shop front.

Williams said the excavator incident "was an exceptional matter" not the five to 10-year-old children "involved in stealing cars and ram-raiding dairies for lollies and ice-cream".