Theft is surging in supermarkets in some of Sydney’s richest areas

Photo: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images.

Crime in New South Wales is at 20-year lows on several fronts according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Crime and Statistics Research (BOCSAR), but business is booming when it comes to shoplifting.

Of the 17 major offences monitored by BOCSAR over the past two years to June 2016, nine recorded a downward trend and six were stable, but stealing from retail stores is up 6.3% and fraud rose 1.7%.

Stealing from retailers has now been trending upwards for four successive quarters, with supermarkets hardest hit at 22% of total reported retail theft, followed by department stores 13%, liquor shops 9% and clothing stores 8%.

But the biggest surprise is that the crime growth is not in Sydney’s lower socio-economic regions, but rather the wealthier suburbs. Retail theft was up 22.1% in the Eastern Suburbs, followed by the Northern Beaches, up 20%, stealing from shops jumped 18.6% in Sutherland, 14.8% in the Inner West and the 15.4% in Outer West and Blue Mountains.

Incidences of fraud also showed significant increases in four areas: the Central Coast (up 13.5%), Northern Beaches (up 9.9%), Sydney’s Outer South West (up 22.5%) and the Outer West and Blue Mountains (up 11.8%).

BOCSAR director, Dr Don Weatherburn said that Sydney’s east began to emerge as a theft “hotspot” with the construction of a major shopping centre at Bondi Junction.

“At one level, more shops at one location means more opportunity, with a range of goods out on open display,” he said. “And a busy shopping centre means thieves can make quick getaway and blend into the crowds.”

Dr Weatherburn said while there was a significant increase in alcohol theft, BOSCAR was unable to determine whether it was for personal use or resale for cash.

Whether increasingly stretched household budgets are pushing individuals to break the law was not part of the BOSCAR analysis.

“There are other factors we don’t fully understand” causing the rise, he said.

However, there is speculation that the rise in supermarket theft may in part be explained by an increasing use of self-service checkouts, which become one temptation too many for a five-finger discount, although the rise in detection also suggests retailers are placing an increased emphasis on monitoring too in response to potential problems.

Dr Weatherburn said automation had provided thieves with “opportunities that didn’t exist previously”. Asked whether criminal gangs or opportunistic individuals were responsible, he said “my best guess a mixture of both”.

Business Insider sought comment from Coles and Woolworths on theft from its stores, but has not yet received a response.

Fraud increased slightly across NSW, mostly due to a spike in recorded incidents of counterfeit currency in April 2016, but Dr Weatherburn said it remained a major problem that was now shifting to electronic payments, with criminals obtaining card details. Card skimming is also prevalent and mail theft, in the hope of finding credit cards posted out by banks, also remains “a huge problem” he said.

Dr Weatherburn also believes because a bank will refund the money on card fraud in many cases, people don’t feel they need to report it to the police, so the problem may be significantly under-reported.

The good news for NSW residents is that a number of serious crimes were trending downwards, including murder (down 32.1%), robbery with a firearm (down 41.7%), robbery without a weapon (down 25.9%) and robbery with a weapon other than a firearm (down 22.2%). Shootings are also at the lowest level in 20 years.

Even motor vehicle theft fell by 12.6% since 2014, while break and enters dropped 7.2%, along with theft from dwellings down 6.6%. But a breakdown of the figures reveals Sydney’s South West saw a 25% increase in stealing from dwellings. Stealing from a person was down 9.9% statewide.

Despite increased fears of terrorist attacks and some high profile incidents, there were nine murder victims in the second quarter of 2016, the lowest of any quarter since 1995.

Outside the major crime categories, amphetamine possession increased 18.6%, but plateaued over the past 12 months. The possession and/or use of other drugs was up 12.7%.

Other increases in “secondary crime categories” may be attributed to an increased focus by police on detection and apprehension.

Among the more quirky statistics, prostitution offences fell 75% over the past 12 months, from 205 to June 2015, to 51 offences in the following 12 months.

While prostitution is legal in NSW, Dr Weatherburn put the 2015 figure down to increased policing in Kings Cross in the wake of the introduction of lockout laws, when police “started arresting large numbers of women”.

Meanwhile, pornography offences rose 20.6% in the last 12 months, which the BOSCAR director put down to law enforcement becoming “much more active in policing the internet”.

There were significant increases in non-domestic assault in Sydney’s Inner South West (up 7.9%) and Sutherland (up 23.1%), while indecent assault on the Central Coast was up 23%.

The royal commission into child sexual abuse may partly explain an increase in reporting of indecent assault, as victims “seeing people with like-minded experiences” going public also decided to come forward.

Overall, Dr Weatherburn said the number of court proceedings increased 5.7% in the past two years, which was a faster than the 2.9% rise in recorded criminal incidents.

In regional NSW, the overall crime patterns were similar to Sydney’s, but some areas showed marked increases, including Coffs Harbour-Grafton (break and enter dwelling up 28.6%; steal from retail store up 16.7%), the Mid North Coast (indecent assault up 27.2%), Newcastle and Lake Macquarie (robbery without a weapon up 30.9%) and the Riverina (domestic violence related assault up 21.9%; indecent assault up 19.8%).

Here are the raw figures in major crime categories across NSW over the past 12 months, courtesy of BOSCAR.

Source: BOSCAR