CBD retail crime prevention 'pushing shoplifters into Wellington suburbs'

From left, Angela Liu from Alexander Pharmacy on Willis St, which is taking part in the Eyes On initiative with First ...
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

From left, Angela Liu from Alexander Pharmacy on Willis St, which is taking part in the Eyes On initiative with First Retail Group's managing director Chris Wilkinson and client services manager Lorraine Nicholson.

Wellington pharmacies have joined city retailers in their fight against crime, as shoplifting rings move into the suburbs.

Most pharmacies in the Wellington region, who want to combat fraud and shoplifting, have joined the successful Eyes On crime-prevention initiative, which police said had resulted in arrests and a downward trend in shoplifting.

Police identified the pharmaceutical sector as being under risk and wanted to to ensure businesses - and the people in them are safe.

Sergeant Matthew McKenzie, of Wellington, said pharmacy thefts were often a precursor to other crime and driven by organised crime, some of which were funding burglary rings for Methamphetamine, he said.

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"The ramification of these networks is massive and there is a ripple effect...by catching someone we are stopping three or four victimisations," he said.

Last year retailers took the law into their own hands, starting the initiative, a collaboration of more than 400 central business district retailers, police and Wellington City Council.

Retailers share CCTV footage and images of offenders with a security company, which immediately sends a text message and email "warning" alert to other retailers.

Since November, membership has more than doubled, which has pushed criminal into the suburbs, police say.

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson, who heads the initiative, said its success in the city was ring-fencing the capital.

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The move was causing concern in areas such as Johnsonville and Tawa, which had seen an increase in crime, he said.

"We joined up most Johnsonville retailers in one day."

Two days after it was launched in Johnsonville, police arrested a shoplifter, who was well known and wanted for other crimes in Wellington CBD, Wilkinson said.

Pharmacies in the Hutt Valley, Porirua and Palmerston North were now anxious for something similar to happen in their areas.

"Pharmacies are increasingly being seen as the first-call when people are unwell and also deal with many of our most vulnerable members of society, including those with mental health, addiction and other issues. Keeping the sector, strong, successful and safe is vital to removing pressure on the health system and ensuring good amenity value for residents, workers and visitors."

The programme helps retailers reduce risk through strategic product placement, staff interactions and  deterrents.

A major driver for businesses to join was the upcoming health and safety legislation changes in April.

Alexander Pharmacy retail manager Lorraine Brunton said the Eyes On programme had been great for the Wills St store.

"We had a lot of shoplifters but did not find out until we did the stock take. Quite a large quantity of Strepsils, Panadol and nasal sprays were taken, and we believe they were being sold on."

Pharmacist Angela Liu said it had now become more proactive and had upgraded CCTV, which had prevented theft.

The initiative is New Zealand's first pharmacy specific programme.

Delwyn Vincent, commercial manager for The Pharmacy Guild's commercial arm PSL, said he would like to see the initiative rolled out around the country.

 - Stuff

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