December 4, 2021

Hamilton dairy owners vent anger against rising assaults

By Gurbir Singh:

New Zealand frequently sits at the top when it comes to international rankings in tourism, economics and being the 2nd safest country in the world.

If the number of crimes reported is an indication, it is perhaps not that safe as it is projected.

According to NZ Police statistics, in the year 2017 there were 69,466 burglaries and 267,465 victimsation cases recorded against people & property. 

Crime wave continues to make headlines across New Zealand with dairy (convenience stores) owners bearing the brunt of vicious, violent attacks by armed robbers.

Cigarettes were among the main targets in robberies involving dairies as the average price of a 20-pack of cigarettes has increased from about $11 in 2010, to about $25.50 now.

Number of such attacks are increasing by the day and recent days have seen Hamilton, nearly 150kms from Auckland, in the news for wrong reasons.

At least four shop owners have been attacked, robbed by masked or hoodie-wearing robbers with hammers, machete and axe, leaving one with a fractured skull, injuries on arms, and another with serious eye injury that may leave him blind.

All these occurred within days of each other.

After these brazen robberies, nearly 70 convenience store owners and associates met yesterday(Sunday) to protest, vent their anger and find solutions.

National party MPs, David Bennett and Kanwaljit Bakshi, Labour List MP Jamie Strange attended the meeting along with Nigel Keall of Hamilton Police.

Many dairy owners held small placards with messages: “Enough now, don’t wait until someone dies” and “Stop pampering criminals and give proper sentence to robbers”.

The general sentiment of the participants was that of enough is enough.

“All retailers in Hamilton are starting to feel helpless with no support from the police or the politicians…What kind of society are we living in where there are attacks with hammers and machetes?”, asked Manish Thakkar, convenor of the meeting and owner of SuperValue Parkwood.

“We can’t live like this – these are serious attacks and crimes and there needs to be some accountability,” he added.

He demanded “vending machines, a cashless country and harder laws” as offenders end up only doing a few hours’ community work or a very short jail terms if they are caught.

Aggravated robberies jumped 87 per cent in the year to May 2017, with more than 1200 nationwide. Cigarettes were among the main targets.

Dairy owners voiced their concern about the worsening crime situation and many owners living with the fear of waiting if they would be the next target of robbery.

As most dairies rely on tobacco for 50 to 60 per cent of their sales, shop owners are demanding installation of vending machines, but costs to be met by cigarette companies.

In his address, National’s Hamilton East MP David Bennett shared his concern as “this (robberies) is happening on an hourly basis in Hamilton at the moment,” and agreed for a need to have higher sanctions in place.

As “young people with no respect who steal cigarettes to on-sell for money or drugs” were committing most of these crimes, he suggested government to undertake disciplinary boot camps for such youth offenders.

On his Facebook page, David Bennett later criticised the current Labour govt for being soft on crime and their declared policy of reducing prison population by 30% as this will bring offenders back on the streets.

Hamilton Labour List MP, Jamie Strange supported the return of a community policing model and said he would be making recommendations to his government. He also mentioned the government’s proposal to strengthen the police force with another 1800 police officers in the next three years.

As a follow up of yesterday’s protest, Jamie Strange is meeting a small group of dairy owners today to discuss in detail what needs to be done.

Last year, the National government had announced funding of $1.8 million for dairies and superettes to be equipped with ultra-sonic sirens, fog cannons and DNA spray as part of a police crackdown on violent robberies.

But as businesses were to contribute 50 per cent of the cost, there were few takers.

The current Labour government, however, has updated that scheme making it at-risk business owners to contribute no more than $250 towards a fog cannon.

Twenty dairies have so far installed fog cannons, with another 17 having signed up.

However, fog cannon did not deter robbers in last week’s robbery at a local Caltex petrol pump as they were still able to steal even when the staff activated the fog canon.

Whether anything will come out of yesterday’s Hamilton protest or earlier similar protests in Auckland last year, only time will tell.

Shop owners do not have high hopes unless government comes down heavily on offenders or give them the right of self defence to protect themselves and their property.

This story was also contributed by this journalist to www.pressreader.com