A mum-of-four has spoken of being held at knifepoint in front of her children by teenagers who then stole her car and phone - one of four armed robberies in Whangārei over the last month.
It's a spate of threatened violence that has shaken some in our communities, with those in Tikipunga raising particular concern over safety in the main shopping area.
Police say there is no evidence crime has grown worse but have acknowledged community concern and urged anyone not feeling safe to make contact.
The mother robbed in front of her child was at Tarewa Park near the Whangārei i-Site Visitor Centre with her children when approached by two teenage boys.
The woman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the teenagers threatened to stab her if she did not co-operate, taking her phone and car keys before driving away. Police later tracked the car by following the mobile phone signal and told her the teens had been located. Whangārei Police confirmed that they tracked down the offenders, 17-year-old and 18-year-old, to a local address.
"They cut the seat belts, took out the baby seats, there are scratches all over the car and it will cost me a lot to fix it.
"I now feel very unsafe in the city. The incident really shook me up and now I cannot even take the kids to the park by myself.
"I do not want this to happen to anyone else as it causes psychological damage to you."
Another armed robbery was reported on Sunday at 5.35pm at Whau Valley Dairy. Police said two people robbed the dairy - one pointing a gun at the store manager - and took cash and cigarettes. One took off on foot while the other took the owner's car, crashed it then fled.
These were the latest broad daylight hold-ups and followed a gunpoint robbery at Tikipunga GAS station on June 8 and an armed robbery at Sunnyside Dairy in Kamo.
Amarjyot Gill was the only staff member present at the petrol station when two robbers walked into the store at about 4pm. When one of them showed him a gun, he said he was so terrified he did not activate the fog cannon deterrent.
Instead, he handed over the cigarettes asked for.
"Robbery is not a new thing, but it usually happens after we shut the place. There have been times when there were three robberies in a single month, but they would smash the place and steal things from the shop at night.
"This is the first time when someone walked in during the day and pointed a gun at us."
Mandeep Rana, who also worked at the GAS station, said he believed the criminal activity had increased in the past two years.
"This area has become unsafe since 2018. We have installed electric doors and we now keep it locked even during the day."
Whangārei area commander Marty Ruth said police wanted everyone in the community to be safe and feel safe and urged anyone with concerns to contact Whangārei police station.
He said the police was not aware of "a significant increase in reports of aggravated robberies" in Whangārei. "However, any report of an aggravated robbery is concerning and is taken very seriously by police."
"Every time an aggravated robbery matter is reported it is investigated by our detectives and police's priority is to hold these offenders to account and to support the victims of these crimes."
He said police regularly patrolled the community and visited local businesses as part of that. There were also crime prevention staff who could offer advice on security and ways to avoid being targeted.
Police statistics show crime - and robbery - to be relatively stable, with figures from 2018 around the same as the past 12 months.
A Tikipunga business owner said crime was not unusual in the area. "A few weeks ago, someone just walked in, took some stuff and walked out. Shoplifting is common, but someone walking out in broad daylight in front of us is a bit strange and has not happened a lot.
"I filed a complaint with the police, but cops never showed up. I also have the video footage of the whole thing but it is of no use. I have now stopped bothering to call the police."
Coin Saver store manager Bhavin Shah said he faced similar issues with teenagers taking stuff from his shop.
"I am working here since 2015 and there have been many incidents where kids do not pay for stuff. They would take whatever they like and just walk away. They also harass people for smokes and money.
"In the evenings, these thugs sit outside the ATM machine and take money from innocent people. I fear for the elders who do not feel safe around here.
"They also sell drugs around here and that is creating a nuisance and an unsafe environment in the neighbourhood. "
Tikipunga resident Sye Peita said he feared for the safety of his wife and daughter amid a perceived decline in safety.
"It has gotten out of hand and people say police should do something about it, but police can do only so much.
"There's always someone lurking around and they look for an opportunity to steal from people.
"It is really very sad and I can see many people, especially the elders, scared to even go for a walk. They get mugged and beaten up and that's something they cannot shake off easily."
Te Hau Awhiowhio o Otangarei Trust CEO Martin Kaipo said he believed teenagers were committing serious crime because of "heavy drugs" and influence from senior gang members.
"There are people who feed the ideas to young people and tempt them with money. They are on the lookout for drugs and money, but mainly drugs. Many youngsters look up to the wrong people as role models and try to become like them. They'll go to any lengths for drugs."
Kaipo said greater community involvement and connection was needed.
"There should be a safe platform for the community to be vocal about the issues. We need to empower the community to have a voice. We need more community liaison from the police perspective. We need to spread proper education and awareness of how to respond during times like this."
- Additional reporting Karina Cooper