High-tech blitz on $2m-a-day shoplifters

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2014

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Retailers are declaring war on large-scale supermarket shoplifting rings, rolling out a new high-tech video surveillance system to nab thieves.

Auckland company Eyedentify has developed a "cloud-based" system, which allows retailers to share photos and footage of offenders with each other and the police. Information sharing on this scale has never happened in the country before.

The New Zealand Retailers Association estimated up to $2 million a day was lost to theft and the rise of shoplifting rings were a significant problem for stores.

"Whether it be a group of individuals that go into a shop or a mall, or an individual who goes into a particular store and on-sells [stolen] merchandise to a number of people outside, it would be of major concern to the retail industry," association spokesman Barry Hellberg said.

Eyedentify chief executive Phil Thomson said the technology meant the days of shoplifters' mug shots being pinned to the wall of a supermarket or the window of a dairy would be over.

If a shoplifter is caught or seen on CCTV, footage can be sent to all other retailers and the police in real time, he said.

After a successful four-month test with a major retailer, the system will be rolled out in more than 100 stores in the Counties Manukau region of South Auckland from next month with a view to it being implemented in the rest of Auckland and Hamilton. Thomson said it was a huge step for the young company but it had "always believed this was the right way forward".

The news comes on the back of a recent case in Manukau District Court in which an 18-year-old confessed to stealing more than $8000 of meat as part of an organised shoplifting gang. The teen, who has interim name suppression, was sentenced to five months home detention after pleading guilty to 21 counts of theft, three of attempted theft, five of trespass and one of dishonestly taking a motor vehicle.

Though some of the charges - which stemmed from offending between February and August - came from the theft of high-end electrical goods, much of the crime took place in Auckland supermarkets. "In general terms you would steal packets of meat and secrete them in chiller bags or suitcases and wheel them out of supermarkets," Judge David McNaughton said.

At first, the man told the court he was selling the stolen wares himself but later confessed to the judge he was "coerced by an organised shoplifting ring" and paid $100 for each job.

Police were unable to tell the Sunday Star-Times whether other members of the group had been collared.

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Thomson said the benefit of the Eyedentify system was that recidivists like the 18-year-old could be stopped before their offending snowballed and when they were caught, it was easy for police to collate evidence against them.

The retailers association said the issue of organised theft was "an area of ongoing concern" but Progressive Enterprises loss prevention manager Bruce McKinnon said they were getting better at providing accurate information to police.

"There are, in small pockets, well-structured groups who believe it's commercially viable for them to target retailers," he said.

"There's no evidence to say it's growing - potentially it's always been there but just become more visible."

That message was reinforced by Counties Manukau police district prevention manager Inspector Richard Middleton.

"We're understanding the criminal environment a lot better," he said.

Middleton was excited about the Eyedentify database being trialled in his region "The way you combat things is by sharing information, because knowledge is power."

Thomson said the company had been careful to ensure it adhered to privacy laws.

- Sunday Star Times

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