Retail theft – crime on the rise in New South Wales

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Following the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions, retail theft has seen a sharp increase in incidents, returning to pre-pandemic levels in both Greater Sydney and New South Wales.

Retail theft, like many property crimes, has fallen significantly during the pandemic due to the closure of non-essential businesses, local travel restrictions, and restrictions on gathering and movement.

Retail theft is defined as shoplifting where people take merchandise without paying for it.

Since the restrictions were lifted in October 2021, retail theft has been steadily increasing, up 47.5% year-on-year to June 2023, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime and Statistics.

The report largely attributes the increase to the removal of restrictions, noting that the figure does not support emerging external factors such as the cost of living crisis that have led to the rise in this crime.

This is because the significant increase has brought volumes equal to pre-pandemic levels, not higher (26,131 incidents in 2018/19 compared to 25,478 in 2022/23).

In an analysis of retail theft cases, it was found that liquor (i.e. bourbon, whiskey and vodka) was the most frequently stolen item in 37% of cases, followed by clothing (22%).

Retail theft of personal items such as perfumes and cosmetics has fallen over the past five years, with only 13% of recent thefts.

The average value of items stolen in retail theft in 2022-2023 was $440.

The places that have seen the biggest increase in incidents include licensed establishments and general wholesale shops. This can be compared to business or clothing stores and pharmacies, which saw the biggest declines.

It is estimated that half of all retail theft offenders are between the ages of 30 and 39.

However, when considering the population, 14 to 17 year olds had the highest rate of involvement with NSW Police relative to the population. thefts.

The total value of all retail theft was estimated to be $2.3 billion in the 2021/22 financial year.

It is important to note that shoplifting is often an underreported crime due to the way retailers themselves may not be aware of how much they are losing through shoplifting or be reluctant to report the crime to the police.

Shop owners’ reluctance to report may stem from the belief that the police won’t do anything about it, that they find out too late to report it, or that it’s not worth it.

In New South Wales, retail theft or “shoplifting” is referred to as theft and is criminalized under Section 117 of the Act Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

The prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The property belongs to another

  2. You took and carried it away without the consent of the owner or without the consent of the person in lawful possession of it,

  3. You intended to permanently deprive the owner of it,

  4. You have not asserted any claim to the property made in good faith.

  5. You took it dishonestly, knowing it belonged to someone else.

If the case is heard in the district court, the maximum penalty is 5 years in prison. However, such matters are regularly heard in the local court.

If the case is in local court and the value of the property is $5,000 or more, the maximum penalty is 2 years in prison and/or a $1,100 fine.

If the assets are less than $5,000, the maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine.

However, if the property involved is less than $2,000, the maximum fine applicable is $2,200.

If the property in question does not exceed $300, the police have the discretion (i.e. the option) to fine you $300 in accordance with Schedule 4 of Criminal Code 2017(NSW).

This is referred to as “a criminal complaint”, and if it is paid, it will not appear on the criminal record. Although they can be contested in court, you risk a criminal conviction and the maximum penalties listed above if the case develops and you are found guilty.

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