Youth gangs with members as young as nine are terrorising Masterton retailers, with one storeowner pleading for a solution beyond the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
In a recent open letter concerning youth crime, New World Masterton owner Clive Webber said he was very concerned for the safety of his customers and staff, who were facing daily abuse.
Addressing Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty, Webber said that since he had raised the issue last April, incidents had escalated, and he felt it necessary to bring the situation to McAnulty’s attention.
“From simple stealing, this has now grown to my staff being verbally assaulted on a daily basis.”
Webber said a middle-aged staff member was recently punched in the head, and the abuse had forced the store to close on at least one occasion.
“After four incidents yesterday [Thursday, January 12] with the youth, my team is not in a good space at all, with the late shift having to close the shop.”
Webber said the level of theft and abuse was “without a doubt” the worst he had seen in his five years as owner of Masterton New World.
He said he was far from the only store being targeted and said the group of about a dozen kids, some as young as nine, were well-known to other Masterton retailers and police.
However, he said petty theft was far from the most pressing issue and was seeking a roadmap to help “get these kids back on the right path”.
“Is this a generational thing? Have we put our heads in the sand? I’m not sure. It’s the experts that need to tell us what has gone wrong and what we can do to rectify it.
“We need to assist these kids and not be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff in a few years’ time.”
Webber said it was frustrating to consistently hear that “there is nothing we can do” and that it was simply not good enough.
“I’m sorry, but someone has to give a damn.
“We need to assist these kids and not be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
“Let’s sit down and put a roadmap together and figure out how we get from here, to where we need to go.”
Police were unavailable for comment yesterday. However, McAnulty said Webber had his, and the community’s, backing.
“I really feel for Clive and his team. They are doing valuable work providing an essential service, and it is just completely unacceptable that they are subjected to this kind of abuse and intimidation.”
He said he would continue to work with Webber, other local businesses, and authorities to get young offenders “back on the straight and narrow”.
“We have been working hard to reverse previous decisions that were detrimental to our region. For example, the previous government took truancy services out of Wairarapa.”
Masterton Mayor Gary Caffell said he anticipated forming a committee to tackle the issue by the end of the month.
“This was a major part of the reason why we had that community meeting at the end of last year, to start discussing how we go about addressing it.
“These people don’t seem to have any respect for police or people in general. In the old days, you immediately shrunk back from police; that has gone.”
He said the problem was nationwide, and it was too easy to blame parents.
“Every community is facing the same problem. How do you legislate against it? I would bloody love to know.”
Caffell said the council was taking the issue seriously, and it would be at the top of an informal council meeting this week.