Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

'Hell in a handbasket' - Retail industry begs for action as assaults on workers spike

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Wed, 20 Mar 2024, 7:06AM

'Hell in a handbasket' - Retail industry begs for action as assaults on workers spike

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Wed, 20 Mar 2024, 7:06AM

More than 400 retail crimes were reported every day on average in 2023 - with six staff a day complaining to police they had been violently or sexually assaulted on the job.  

Industry advocates have described the situation as “hell in a handbasket” and “an unmitigated disaster” and are calling on the Government to take immediate action.  

Police data requested by the Dairy and Business Owners’ Group shows that in 2023, 148,599 crimes were reported at retail locations, which are defined as places where “the primary activity is the selling of goods or the provision of services to customers for personal/household use”. 

Locations include dairies, bottle stores, pharmacies, service stations, shops, stores, supermarkets, salons, restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs, and shopping malls. 

The figures equate to: 

- 12,383 retail offences reported each month 

- 2850 a week 

- 407 a day 

- 17 offences an hour 

Six retail workers a day, on average, report on-the-job assaults to police.  Photo / SuppliedSix retail workers a day, on average, report on-the-job assaults to police. Photo / Supplied 

Police also recorded 2373 reports of assaults on retail workers. 

Of those, 1980 were coded by police as “acts intended to cause injury” and 393 as “sexual assault and related offences”. 

The total victimisation figures break down to at least: 

- 197 each month in 2023 

- 45 a week 

- 6 a day 

Dairy and Business Owners’ Group chairman Sunny Kaushal said retailers reported a crime to police around every three minutes last year. 

“Twenty-twenty-three broke records for all the wrong reasons. No less than 148,599 retail crimes were reported to police last year; to provide a sense for how bad this is, that’s nearly triple the 50,840 crimes reported in 2020 and is five times greater than in 2015. 

“So, in less than a decade, law and order has gone to hell in a handbasket.” 

Kaushal said the figures revealed assaults on retail workers were up 20 per cent on 2022 - but 121 per cent higher than in 2015. 

A year of violence and terror 

Pukekohe liquor store owner Ravinder Singh was one of the retailers assaulted last year. 

His store has been hit by thieves more than 15 times - he has been robbed, ram-raided, held at gunpoint, even stabbed, despite his store being fitted out with two fog cannons, bollards, concrete blocks, and more than 20 CCTV cameras. 

Ravinder Singh, Counties Inn Liquor Centre owner. Photo / Jed Bradley.Ravinder Singh, Counties Inn Liquor Centre owner. Photo / Jed Bradley. 

In July 2023 Hastings dairy owner Balkaran Singh was getting ready to close for the day when a man in a ski mask and hoodie burst in and demanded money, then swung a hatchet at him, narrowly missing his shoulder. 

In August a Christchurch dairy owner spoke out about an attack by weapon-wielding robbers. 

He said three men in their 20s entered his store. One had an axe, the other two carried knives. 

As the owner dashed behind the shop front to protect himself one of the men jumped on to the counter and struck him with the knife, cutting his forehead. 

Two people were stabbed - one of them receiving critical injuries - at an armed robbery at this Auckland dairy. Photo / Hayden WoodwardTwo people were stabbed - one of them receiving critical injuries - at an armed robbery at this Auckland dairy. Photo / Hayden Woodward 

In October, a 24-year-old man was charged after two people were stabbed - leaving one of them critically injured - in an Auckland dairy.  

Shoppers inside at the time of the attack stopped the offender and held him down, then tended to both victims. 

Assaults on retail workers ‘despicable’ 

“Last year, six retailers a day were being assaulted at work and despicably, 2023 saw a record 260 sexual assaults too,” Kaushal said. 

“That’s 26 per cent more than 2022, and 118 per cent greater than in 2015.” 

Kaushal believed much of the increase could be attributed to youth offending. 

“As we’ve seen young people committing heinous acts and knowing the number of kids aged 10-17 being held to account was up 30 per cent on 2022,” he said. 

Dairy and Business Owners Group chair Sunny Kaushal. Photo / Jed Bradley
Dairy and Business Owners Group chair Sunny Kaushal. Photo / Jed Bradley 

Reports of violent burglaries such as these - some in broad daylight - or smash-and-grab “ram raids” using stolen cars have been in the news almost daily over the past year - with reports of increasingly brazen offending, often involving disaffected teens and pre-teens who brag about their exploits on social media. 

Authorities acknowledge New Zealand is experiencing a spike in anti-social crime, mostly attributed to post-Covid complications - but there is ongoing debate over what is causing it and whether it is just a blip or part of a longer-term trend. 

Kaushal said the increase in offences and fewer arrests was “an unmitigated disaster”. 

“Retail is on the bleeding edge of the crime emergency and data shows something has gone seriously off the rails,” he said. 

“We need a serious national discussion, and we need that now to stop this terrible trend.” 

Police Minister Mark Mitchell agreed that “over the last six years, crime has been allowed to fester into a huge problem”. 

“This has included a dramatic increase in retail crime leaving many in the industry victims of serious and violent acts of crime,“ he said. 

“This Government is taking action, alongside the police to get on top of it.” 

He reiterated the government’s promise to “crack down” on youth crime - including a “suite of new tools” to assist police and other initiatives like military-style boot camps. 

“These initiatives, along with our commitment to have more police on the beat over the next two years, will have a positive impact on supporting police and other agencies to address retail crime and will help to keep our communities safer,” Mitchell said. 

“We want to see real consequences for serious, repeat offenders. 

“Alongside this work, I will continue to engage with local government, businesses, community groups and iwi on where and how we can work together to address retail crime.” 

Police: retail crime ‘very visible and disruptive’ 

Police assured they had the right focus on retail crime and were doing all they could to prevent and reduce it. 

“Police take retail crime seriously as we know the impact it has on hard-working business owners, and members of the public. We’ve taken an enforcement, prevention, and partnership approach,” a spokesperson said. 

Police acknowledged the increase in retail crime - but that was partly due to better, easier reporting facilities for lower-level offending including the 105 non-emergency phone number. 

They said some districts had teams specifically focused on retail crime, and the National Retail Investigation Support Unit targeted recidivist offenders and worked with owners to “identify patterns of high-priority repeat retail offending”. 

“We know that across the board it is a small cohort of repeat offenders who commit a large proportion of retail crime, and these are usually small, organised groups,” the spokesperson said. 

“(We) focus our efforts on holding the most prolific retail offenders to account, and those who are undertaking the most brazen and harmful retail offending, such as ram raids and aggravated robbery. 

“Police investigate every reported occurrence of these offences.” 

Police said youth “only account for approximately 16 per cent of offenders held to account for retail crime” - but 80 per cent of ram raids involve young people. 

“And this type of crime is very visible and disruptive in our communities and to businesses we want to see thrive. 

“Youth offending is usually driven by a combination of young people being exposed to a negative or abusive home environment, disengaged from schooling and their communities, the monetary gain from stealing certain goods, and the use of social media. 

“This is where police work with partners... youth offending is a complex issue and police cannot solve it alone.” 

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for 18 years. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz 

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you