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Government to spend $1.9 million on small business crime prevention initiative

The New Zealand government has announced it will spend an additional $1.9 million to roll out fog cannons for small businesses at risk of violent retail crime.

Police and small business Minister Stuart Nash said the additional $1.9 million cash injection will help improve the safety of workers in small businesses like dairies, liquor stores and petrol stations.

Nash said fog cannons have already been installed in 523 locations and with the extra funding, an estimated 470 extra retail premises will be eligible.

Fog cannons emit a non-toxic cloud of vapour and a high-pitched noise to deter offenders and minimise the risk of violence to workers. They effectively create a barrier and a no-go zone that confuses the offender and allows workers to escape.

“Fog cannons have been activated by workers in 29 businesses and in all cases there were no injuries to staff and minimal property loss for business owners,” Nash said. “The fog cannon scheme has a marked impact on the safety of workers in retail premises.”

Almost half the fog cannons currently installed are in the police districts of counties Manukau, Waikato, and Bay of Plenty, and others are distributed all over the country. 

Most of the fog cannons, around 82 per cent, have been installed in superettes and dairies. Fifteen per cent are in petrol stations and three percent in liquor stores.

According to Nash, not all businesses are eligible.

“Owners apply to police who do an assessment based on risk, such as whether they have been robbed in the past and the number of police callouts to incidents within 100 metres of the shop,” he said.

Nash said commercial aggravated robberies are at their lowest level in five years.

“We have experienced a significant decrease in the number of robberies. There were 21 robberies in December 2019, a fall of more than 70 per cent on the 78 robberies in April 2017.”

There was a 21 per cent reduction in aggravated robberies during 2019, compared to the previous year, records show. Since April 2017 police have identified and dealt with 1,277 offenders.

Nash said many robberies are fuelled by a desire for a quick buck to feed a drug habit. Wastewater analysis indicates that methamphetamine use has fallen by 17 per cent in the first full year of nationwide testing.

“It’s still early days but it’s headed in the right direction,” he said. “Extra police resources have also enabled a new focus on aggravated robberies. This includes more detectives, more staff to work with youth, and police who work with small business owners and industry groups.”

Retail NZ says it welcomes the additional $1.9 million funding to support the installation of fog devices in retail stores that are at-risk of robbery.

“Aggravated robbery is a serious risk for many retail businesses, and fog devices are an effective means of preventing robberies,” said Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford.

“While the equipment is effective, it can be expensive, and many dairies operate on very low levels of profitability, with owners often struggling to pay themselves minimum wage,” Harford said. 

“Robberies are deeply traumatic for business owners and their employees, and government funding for fog devices has proven to be effective at helping prevent and deter criminals – so the extension of funding is a positive step.”

Harford said Retail NZ is keen to continue to work with the government and Police to help reduce retail crime.

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