An Auckland dairy owner has lost $65,000 worth of stock in five robberies during the past month, including one where a staff member was hit with a golf club over a chocolate bar.
The robberies, which have mostly occurred at night, come on top of an increasing barrage of daily verbal abuse and threatening behaviour and have gotten so bad that three terrified staff members have now quit Mahmoud Hardan's stores saying they no longer feel safe.
"They went back to the benefit...it's safer for them and I don't blame them to be honest," said Hardan, who owns six dairies in central Auckland.
In one of the robberies eight masked thieves broke into his convenience store in Quay St in the early hours of the morning. They smashed their way through the doors before stealing about $40,000 worth of cigarettes, vapes and cash in a matter of minutes.
Two days later a staff member at Localito convenience store in Queen St was left with a head injury after being beaten with a golf club by thieves at about 10pm.
"They beat him badly. They came in and took chocolate and other stuff and walked away and he was shouting at them. The guy had golf clubs and they hit him with it and ran away."
"He not only says 'I don't want to work in the city anymore, I don't want to come to the city'."
Hardan said staff are getting abused every single day and there's little they can do to stop them.
"People are walking inside and swearing at them, abusing them. They take snacks, drinks and walk away. It's just crazy. I have lost three staff members with the same message: "it's unsafe to work".
He said the increasing level of violence affecting his business comes after a challenging few years for inner city businesses.
It's now the worst he's ever seen.
"I've been in the city for 18 years doing business and oh my God, the last 18 months are the worst ever. It's too much."
It's gotten to the point he's wondering if it's worth keeping his six dairies.
Hardan believes an increase in gangs and soft punishments are partly behind the violence, which has resulted in him struggling to get insurance cover for one of his central city dairies as it's deemed too high of a risk to cover. He's also pulled out of plans to open a new store saying it's just not worth it after the most recent robbery.
His Mission Bay store has been hit the worst. Two weeks ago thieves broke in at 1am, stealing around $15,000 worth of vapes, cigarettes and the till which had some cash in it. A week later they hit it again, the fifth time the store has been robbed in the past two years.
While police have recovered some of the vapes from the first of the two Mission Bay break ins, Hardan is frustrated at what he believes is a lack of action from them in some cases.
Despite providing police with internal security footage and the number plates for the cars the thieves left in after the Quay St robbery, he says not enough has been done and external footage from the ferry terminal still hasn't been collected.
Senior Sergeant Marty Brown, Acting Area Prevention Manager for Auckland City Area acknowledged burglaries were distressing for the victims involved.
He said police were committed to investigating the cases at Hardan's stores and holding offenders to account.
"(In) a number of these cases follow up enquiries have been made including CCTV footage and forensic analysis of the scene or vehicle involved. These enquiries have resulted in a number of possible suspects being identified and enquiries are ongoing in relation to these matters."
Hardan's now pleading for tougher penalties and more police on the beat to deter thieves and those who think it's ok to enter his stores and abuse staff.
"They need to increase the police presence and act faster when it happens."
He is also calling on the Government do more to "protect the people".
"They need to give more attention to the businesses in the CBD, we've had enough from Covid, from constructions, from the city council – on top of that there's safety issues. It's really concerning."
"My daughter is 10-years-old and sometimes I don't feel safe letting her go from my shop to next door to buy something. Maybe I'm thinking too much about what I see in the city."
"I think it's in part because there's more gangs involved and because nobody punishes these people. I gave police the plate number of the car and it's clearly the plate numbers but it's been (several) weeks now. They could know where they live."
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said he feels for Hardan but is sadly not surprised to hear what he's going through.
"There's a lot of aggression in the community and retail is at the front line of that."
He said there's been a "significant increase" in crime and assaults across the country, particularly in Auckland and Wellington, over the past year.
"It's part of a much bigger picture of violence, antisocial behaviour and general nastiness we are seeing in stores right through the country.
"It's a significant concern for our members and people working in retail because at the end of the day people who are on the shop floor and on the front line of this have the right to go to work everyday and not be fearful about the way they are going to be treated by customers and they certainly shouldn't be threatened or beaten up."
He believed Covid had a lot to do with it.
"There's been concern in the retail community about increasing violence for a number of years but it really has spiked since we came out of lockdown last year and into 2021. There are some broad social issues there.
I think there's a lot of angst and a lot of tension in the community and I think a lot of people are taking that out on staff."
He said assaults, or the threat of them, are occurring on an almost daily basis.
"Even just the threat of violence is almost as bad as the violence itself for the members who are on the end of it."
Harford said the best things store owners could do to try and prevent crime was install good security measures like CCTV footage and fog devices and share information with other local businesses about known 'trouble makers'.
A paper published in the Safer Communities journal earlier this month drew a strong link between the overwhelming spike in dairy robberies and tax hikes introduced in 2016 and 2017.
The bulk of the goods stolen from Hardan's stores are usually cigarettes and vapes.
Auckland Central Area Commander Inspector Gary Davey said police have "sufficient resources to deal with the crime and issues within the city".
Those resources include three teams of 10 beat staff and the support of Police Support Unit, Alcohol Harm Prevention, a Prevention Team and Road Policing.
He said despite people supplying what they believe is good footage or descriptions of car it often wasn't enough for police to make an arrest.
"It is not unusual that a car reg number off CCTV is insufficient to lead to the identity of an offender. It normally depends on the quality of the images in the CCTV and then trying to have someone identify the offender."
Anyone who has information about any of these cases is asked to contact Police on 105 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
ONE MONTH, FIVE ROBBERIES
JULY 13, 2am: Localito convenience store in Halsey St. $8,000 worth of cigarettes and vapes stolen.
JULY 18, 11.44pm: Localito convenience store in Quay St, 8 masked thieves smash their way through doors. Stole about $40k worth of vapes, cigarettes and cash.
JUL 20: 10pm. Localito convenience story in Queen St, staff member hit with golf clubs by thief trying to steal chocolate.
AUG 2, 1am: Quick Pick convenience store in Patterson Ave Mission Bay. $15,000 worth of vapes and cigarettes, small amount of cash.
AUG 8, 3.30am Quick Pick convenience store in Patterson Ave Mission Bay. Cigarettes, vapes and mobile accessories taken. This is the fifth time the store has been hit in the past two years.
What's behind the rise in violent crime
On the beat in Auckland City
I was punched in the face by a drunk stranger
Saturday: The booze problem
Sunday: The impact on business
The cost to the health system
Victim's long road to recovery
Tuesday: The scourge of robbery
Wednesday: The solutions