Friday, June 21, 2024

Foodstuffs continues facial recognition trial as crime doubles

The total amount of retail crime recorded at Foodstuffs North Island’s 300+ New World, PAK’nSAVE and Four Square stores has more than doubled within two years, latest data from the New Zealand owned and operated grocery co-operative shows.

Total incidents recorded by the co-op climbed to 5,124 in the January-March 2024 quarter – a record high after the 4,719 incidents that were recorded in the previous quarter of October-December 2023 (up 9%) and the 3,510 incidents recorded in the July-September 2023 quarter (up 46%).

Theft again dominated the latest quarter’s total, with 3,651 separate offences (up 9.6% on the previous quarter), followed by 600 breaches of trespass notices and store bans (up 17% on the previous quarter).

But it was offences involving violence and aggression that increased the most, with assaults almost doubling to 60 (up 94% on the previous quarter), while cases of harassment doubled to 26 (up 100% on the previous quarter).

Chief Executive of Foodstuffs North Island, Chris Quin, said the rise in violence and aggression in the latest quarter is a big concern.

“For cases of assault and harassment in our co-op’s stores to now be double what they were in both of the previous two quarters is very worrying,” Mr Quin said.

“It is, of course, part of the bigger picture of an ongoing epidemic of retail crime. We’re seeing it, and other retailers are too. The stats showing crime in our co-op’s stores has doubled within two years speaks volumes. It mustn’t be allowed to continue.”

Facial recognition trial continues

Foodstuffs North Island is now three months into its six-month long trial of facial recognition (FR) at 25 of its New World and PAK’nSAVE stores. Foodstuffs hopes the trial will determine if the technology’s ability to better identify repeat offenders.

Consistent with the previous two quarters, repeat offenders accounted for a third of all offences in January – March of this year.
“We’re talking about a hardcore set of offenders who repeatedly target retailers, even if they’ve previously been banned, and who think nothing of walking out without paying for goods, and then get hostile if confronted, as we’ve seen time and time again, and shown in the numerous CCTV clips we’ve shared publicly,” Mr Quin said.

FR works by matching the faces of people who enter a store against that store’s record of offenders, usually people who have been trespassed for serious incidents or repeat offences, and their accomplices. The store’s own FR system must detect a facial match of at least 90%, before two specially trained team members receive the information. They both need to agree it’s a match before the information is acted on.

Julian Benefield, Foodstuffs North Island’s General Counsel, says a survey of 452 customers who shop at the stores trialling FR found most were supportive, especially once they knew the facts.

“When shoppers read a short explanation of why and how we’re trialling facial recognition, nine out of 10 people said they were supportive or don’t have a problem with it,” he said.

The survey also asked questions about feeling safe and showed that once informed about the trial, 45% of customers said they felt safer having FR instore.

“What that survey shows is that building public awareness really makes shoppers more likely to appreciate that we’re not only trying to make our stores safer workplaces but also safer places for them to shop, while also doing everything we can to respect their privacy and dignity,” Mr Benefield said.

The trial is progressing under the close scrutiny of an independent evaluator and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

“Feedback from store owners and teams taking part in the trial is that they are noticing a reduction in retail crime with repeat offenders being less aggressive when approached and that generally their staff are telling them they feel safer while at work,” Mr Benefield said.

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