Police backing dairy owners but robberies on the rise

MORNING REPORT/RNZ

The number of children and teenagers appearing in court for robbery is the highest in almost a decade and has has risen by more than 50 percent in the past year alone.

OPINION: A person is robbed in New Zealand 10 times a day on average. Often it is a dairy owner, working hard to make a living but now on the front line of the fight against violent criminals looking for, mainly, tobacco and cash.

The problem is getting worse. Statistics swing around a lot but the 375 robberies committed in July this year compare with 353 in the same month last year and 253 in July 2015. This is an increase of nearly 50 per cent in just two years.

Now, the police are introducing innovative hi-tech tools to combat the problem. Hopefully they provide a useful and effective deterrent.

CCTV still of what police say was an aggravated robbery at Waitakere Township Superette, west Auckland, on August 16.
SUPPLIED

CCTV still of what police say was an aggravated robbery at Waitakere Township Superette, west Auckland, on August 16.

Aggravated robberies (because 93 per cent of the robberies counted in the statistics involve the use of a weapon) have become endemic at a time when New Zealand is becoming generally more law-abiding – overall crime has been trending downwards for more than 20 years now.

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Why is this? It is largely the unintended consequence of the Government's compounding tax hikes on tobacco, which have the very laudable objective of convincing people to give it up.

Harinath Munjala, manager of the Worcester Discount Dairy in Christchurch had around $1000 worth of cigarettes stole in ...
JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF

Harinath Munjala, manager of the Worcester Discount Dairy in Christchurch had around $1000 worth of cigarettes stole in a robbery involving a woman with a large knife.

Under the regime which hikes tobacco tax in every Budget, cigarettes will cost $1.50 each by 2020. Loose tobacco, which now retails at $1700 a kilogram, will easily cost smokers $2200 a kilogram within five years.

With every tax rise, dairy owners predict more robberies. So far, they have been proved right. As the retail cost of tobacco increases, so does its worth on the black market.

Unfortunately, the cheap smokes being peddled there are less likely to have fallen off the back of a truck than been taken at the point of a machete from some poor worker earning minimum wage behind the counter of a late-night convenience store.

A number of offenders are seen trying to break into a secure metal cigarette dispenser during a robbery at Z Pakuranga.

A number of offenders are seen trying to break into a secure metal cigarette dispenser during a robbery at Z Pakuranga.

We might silently applaud when a dairy owner or worker fights back, bravely but foolishly. However, the robbers themselves are not always whom we might think them to be.

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Eight hundred people were convicted of robbery in the year to June. A fair number in court were children. Ministry of Justice figures show that 267 of those charged with robbery or extortion during the year were aged between 10 and 16.

So, it can be argued that the familiar dairy – that time-honoured feature of ordinary Kiwi life in the suburbs – has now become a dangerous battleground, especially for the workers and owners on the receiving end, but also sometimes for child offenders who are too young to fully understand what they are doing.

The latest measures in dealing with this scourge are being introduced under a $1.8 million Government scheme, which will share costs between the dairy owners and the police. So far, 54 have signed up.

Would-be robbers of high-risk dairies might in future be bombarded with a cacophonic wall of noise – four frequencies at once, confounding human senses which can normally only deal with two. Fog cannons will fill the shop with a pea-soup thick and disorienting mist within 60 seconds.

Offenders will be covered with a unique "DNA spray", invisible to the naked eye but visible under ultra-violet light and impossible to wash off.

These dramatic but essentially non-violent measures will not stop the robberies. But it can be hoped that making things more difficult and risky for offenders will reverse the upward trend.

 - Stuff

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