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Supermarket violence: Foodstuffs trialling facial recognition technology to combat theft, assaults on staff

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Foodstuffs will be trialling facial recognition technology at about 30 stores across the North Island. Photo / File

Supermarket giant Foodstuffs is trialling facial recognition technology across its North Island stores as the rates of theft, burglary, robbery and other crimes continue to soar.

The chain said the move was an attempt “to proactively reduce serious incidents in stores and meet our safety responsibilities to customers and team”.

Foodstuffs owns New World, Pak’N Save and Four Square supermarkets.

It admitted that a small number of supermarkets were already using the technology, but won’t say which ones. Their use will be reviewed in connection with the trial.

“Supermarkets are on the frontline of the rising trend of retail crime with our teams dealing with daily incidents of assault, aggression and theft,” said Foodstuffs North Island CEO Chris Quin said.

“This is the concerning reality for our teams as the number of incidents in grocery stores has risen significantly since early 2020 to record levels this year.”

Chris Quin, CEO of Foodstuffs North Island. Photo / File
Chris Quin, CEO of Foodstuffs North Island. Photo / File

Quin said retail crime in supermarkets was up 246 per cent since 2020.

Serious incidents, theft, burglary, robbery, assault and other aggressive, violent and threatening behaviour in Foodstuffs North Island stores this year are up 31 per cent on 2021.

This year, of the 9700 offenders nearly 2500 of them were likely to be repeat offenders.

The facial recognition technology trial will involve a limited number of Foodstuffs stores across approximately 30 stores in the North Island which aimed to reduce serious incidents.

“Our store teams have a toolbox of measures to keep people safe and these will absolutely stay in place, but we have to do more,” Quin said.

“Facial recognition technology is one of the only tools we’ve identified that could help us to proactively target and reduce theft, burglary, robbery, assault, and other aggressive, violent or threatening behaviour by repeat offenders.”

He assured the technology will only be used in our stores for this “specific and limited purpose” and that the privacy of customers would be a major priority. The chain would continue to engage with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner about its use.

“Recognising this is a dynamic and changing environment, we will continue to comply with all relevant laws,” Quin said.

Stores using, or trialling, facial recognition technology will be signposted at the entrance.

According to Quin, about 3.5 million people enter at least one of its North Island supermarkets every week.

“Our store teams do an amazing job, their focus is on keeping food on shelf and looking after our customers – we don’t want them at risk trying to manage unsafe situations where people who have been trespassed or are known accomplices of offenders continue to re-enter their stores,” he said.

“This is where facial recognition technology could help. It may be able to sit alongside all our other security and safety initiatives, helping to proactively identify anyone who should not be in the store, or who is a known accomplice of an offender.”

Quin added that a decision would be made after the trial about whether the technology would be used on an ongoing basis for security, and, if so, how it could be done in a way that kept everyone safe.

A spokesman for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner had earlier said supermarkets considering using the technology should undertake a “privacy impact assessment” and urged anyone unhappy about having their face automatically identified to speak up.

He said individuals who felt their privacy had been breached by this technology should complain to the supermarket first, and if they are unsatisfied, they could take it to the Privacy Commissioner’s office.

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