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Taking care of business

Wairarapa business owners will be taking advantage of a government funding boost to aid store security

By Beckie Wilson

[email protected]

Being robbed at knife-point, falling victim to repeated break ins, and feeling unsafe in their place of work is eating away at the morale of small business owners in Wairarapa.

And a $1.8m government boost to help co-fund a range of security and prevention measures at small businesses and stores may only be addressing part of the problem, they say.

It’s a concerning reality that small Wairarapa business and dairy owners feel unsafe working at the place they rely on to make a living.

The rate of armed robberies and break-ins across the country has increased in the past year, adding to the safety risk of staff.

Last week, Police Minister Paula Bennett revealed $1.8 million will be made available to help co-fund a range of security and prevention measures at dairies, superettes and small local businesses.

But for locally-owned Wairarapa businesses that have recently fallen victim to the careless act of burglaries for the likes of alcohol, cigarettes and cash, they invite the governments’ initiative, but also question what is being done to stop the offending.

Parth Patel was working behind the counter at his family-owned dairy in Carterton when he was threatened at knife-point.

“I don’t think [funding] could do too much as we already have good security cameras – it’s about the behaviour of the burglars,” he said.

He suggested funding for cage-like barriers at the counter could improve the safety of workers.

Masterton’s Tripoli bistro owner Marlon Tortoza knows what it is like to arrive to work to find his business had been burgled.

The restaurant was broken into five times in seven months up to January this year, with thieves taken off with alcohol and cash.

Resources should go to stopping thieves, and getting to the core of the reason of why they are offending, and offenders should be given harsher punishments to prevent re-offending, he said.

“I’m not sure if I would apply as I already have all the cameras,” he said.

He is going through the process of re-hiring, with a couple of interviewees having asked about their safety in the store after knowing its history with targeted thefts, and it is a concern, he said.

He doesn’t think his business is as big of a target as dairies, but he thinks it is great step forward from the government.

Mrs Bennett said there was no one reason for the spike in these crimes, but 44 per cent of offenders were 17 years or younger.

Police will fund up to 50 per cent of the cost of the security measures such as fog cannons and high-volume alarms, and in some exceptional circumstances, they may pay a larger share.

“The money is from the Justice Sector Fund and is aimed at small family or individually-owned businesses that are considered to be high risk that can’t cover the costs of increased security without some help,” she said.

Martinborough’s Kitchener St Dairy and Tearooms owner Bruce Sullivan stopped selling cigarettes last year because the safety risk of his staff was “too high” after his business was burgled several times.

“The cigarettes issue has created an elephant in the room and they are a very resalable item among those who steal them,” Mr Sullivan said.

Over the years he had probably spent more than $2000 on security cameras alone. Funding from the government for extra security would be welcomed by any small business owner and he would apply if he was eligible, he said.

The Carterton Bottle-O store owner said any funding to beef up security “would be really good”.

He said he spoke on behalf of all small and family-owned businesses when he said that extra security measures aren’t only for the benefit of staff and owners, but for the safety of the customers.

“A lot of regular customers have stopped coming in because they are scared… it is important for the community,” he said.

The store was raided a handful of times mid-last year, with cigarettes being a target.

Streets cameras and more in-store police patrolling were key for improving safety, but a focus was also needed to go into stopping the offending, he said.


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