Retail NZ is urging store owners not to use weapons to protect themselves. Photo / Andrew Warner
The owner of a Bay of Plenty store “smashed up” by four people says he is “completely broken” after multiple break-ins.
Retail NZ says a “tidal wave” of crime has left businesses “gloomy about their futures” and worrying about protecting themselves – but a prominent Rotorua dairy owner says “vigilante justice” is not the answer.
The owner of a store in Bayfair Shopping Centre burgled on Wednesday night said he had “lost all faith” in the Government after being targeted multiple times.
“You feel like you don’t have backing from anybody, and it makes business owners feel like they cannot survive,” he said.
“We just don’t have faith in the Government. Because when we talk to the police they say ‘our hands are tied’.”
He spoke on the condition his name, his store’s name, and the number of times it had been burgled were not published as he feared being identified would leave it vulnerable to copycat criminals.
In the latest break-in, four people broke in wielding weapons and just “smashed up the store”.
The extent of damage and how much was stolen were still being assessed when he spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times.
In his view: “These people are doing it for the thrill of doing it and you just feel like the police have no power.”
The man said he had attended meetings with other business owners and said some talked about arming themselves at work with baseball bats or “other things they can throw and use” as an additional security measure.
“They can get in trouble, but no one is really caring about the aftermath of dealing with police. It’s just you have got to protect yourself.
“You can see the mentality of people. It’s just gone right to one side.
“Building a business is your blood and guts – it’s everything you can put into it. You don’t want to just stop – but there is a point where you are completely broken. And that point has come and gone for most business owners.”
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the mental wellbeing of retailers and staff was being affected.
Harford said the “tidal wave of crime swamping the retail sector” was making retailers “concerned, unsafe and worried” about protecting their businesses.
“There are certainly real challenges out there but it’s leaving everyone feeling pretty down and gloomy about their futures.
“We need to see that change – but ultimately it’s a social problem and we need the Government to come to the party and drive social change to make people understand it’s not acceptable.”
He said had heard some business owners were trying to arm themselves but Retail NZ strongly advised against this “really bad idea”.
“We certainly don’t recommend arming yourself or trying to take on people who are trying to rob your store.
“It puts you, staff and customers at risk. It potentially puts you in dubious territory. It’s dangerous.”
Springfield Superette & Lotto store owner Raj Kumar, a Rotorua district councillor, said there was “a lot of talk” among Bay store owners about arming up as a safety measure.
“They are getting upset and thinking ‘we should do this’.”
But Kumar said “vigilante justice” was not the way forward and there were repercussions for taking a physical approach.
He said many businesses were being targeted overnight when no one was around and an increased police presence around malls and shopping areas was needed.
“We need a very logical and community approach to it.
“There needs to be Government intervention and iwi input. It’s time for action now.”
A Rotorua dairy owner, who spoke on the condition he was not named for fear his business would be targeted, said the crime spree in New Zealand was “getting out of hand”, with criminals becoming “more brazen”.
He said he had considered using a weapon for protection at work, but decided against it because of possible legal consequences and the risk of getting seriously injured.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. Every circumstance is different and every criminal is different too. If it’s a hardened criminal high on P – you can’t take them on.”
In recent months Rotorua local liquor store staff armed with a hockey stick turned the tables on four would-be robbers, and the owner of a different alcohol shop grabbed nunchucks and chased a thief.
A police spokeswoman said police were called to a burglary at Bayfair Shopping Centre at 9.45pm Wednesday.
“It’s understood a group of offenders have gained entry to a store within the complex and taken items before fleeing the scene on foot.”
The spokeswoman said it appeared tools had been used to break in.
Bayfair Shopping Centre manager Steve Ellingford said police were conducting a “full investigation”.
He said the safety and security of customers, tenants and staff was a “key priority” and the centre was helping police with their inquiries.
Tauranga Business Chamber chief executive Matt Cowley said there was genuine concern from retail owners and shift managers who feared growing aggression and intimidation from some customers during operating hours.
Police Minister Chris Hipkins said he understood retail crime was dangerous and “distressing” for business owners.
“I know police respond to these incidents at a district level with significant investigative action to identify those responsible.”
But he said shop owners arming themselves was “not the way to go”.
Hipkins said police had rolled out hundreds of fog cannons giving retailers an “immediate deterrent to theft” and established the National Retail Investigation Support Unit.
This had been followed up with $6 million from the Proceeds of Crime Fund to establish a prevention programme supplying targeted businesses with bollards, roller doors, shatter-proof glass or improving alarm systems.
He said the Government had put 1500 more police officers on the frontline and invested in “every budget” to make sure police had the tools and resources to do their job.