Fighting for your livelihood

From Voices, 3:35 pm on 21 November 2016
A photo of Kamlesh Patel outside his Opawa dairy. He says he will fight anyone who tries to robs his store

Kamlesh Patel says he will fight anyone who tries to robs his store Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

Selling ice-creams and newspapers shouldn't be a dangerous business – but in New Zealand it's becoming that way.

Robberies are up 15 percent on last year and many of the victims are ethnic New Zealanders who run dairies.

Katy Gosset talks to shop workers about the repeated attacks and whether they believe they're racially motivated. 

By Katy Gosset

I photograph Kamlesh Patel in front of the sweet selection behind the shop counter and standing with his arms folded in the doorway of his Christchurch diary. This is his domain and each shot shows a man who's more than prepared to protect it.

Mr Patel’s been robbed four times in the last seven years and each time he’s fought back.

“I stand up for myself. I will tell everybody to stand up for themselves."

A photo of Kamlesh Patel in front of the sweet selection in his Opawa dairy. His shop has been robbed four times in seven years

Kamlesh Patel in his Opawa dairy that has been robbed four times in seven years Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

Mr Patel believes part of the problem facing dairy owners is that children no longer respect their elders. He says any child who shoplifts from his dairy will be remembered and barred from the store.

“The person who [shoplifts] today, he will be a big burglar and robber tomorrow, that is definite.”

In the first robbery, Mr Patel was confronted by a man with a shot gun but says he wasn't frightened.

"Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. If I give them money he will shoot me. If I don't give it, he will shoot me. If my time is over, it's over." 

A photo of Kamlesh Patel at his counter. Earlier this year he fought with a robber who was trying to open his cigarette shutter.

Earlier this year Kamlesh Patel fought with a robber behind his counter Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

Other robbers have targeted cigarettes and, in February this year, his cash register. On each occasion Mr Patel gave chase.

"He dropped the register and started running and I said, "No, I want the person because the register is not going to run away anyway so I [caught] him and then we handed [him] over to the police."

In July he found a man at his counter with a Taser gun. Mr Patel fought with the robber for about 15 seconds and knocked down a stand to block his escape. His wife, Neeta, came to his aid and received a painful shot from the Taser.

Again, Mr Patel had no qualms about pursuing the robber.

"If I do not fight today, tomorrow somebody else will come.

"If all the dairies will protect themselves, definitely no-one will dare come inside."

A photo of Adam Du at the counter of the Burwood's Lake Terrace Stationery and Dairy which was robbed earlier this year.

Adam Du was robbed at Burwood's Lake Terrace Stationery and Dairy Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

The first robbery international student Adam Du experienced at Burwood's Lake Terrace Stationery and Dairy was both frightening and unexpected.

"I was pretty scared, because I've been here for three years and get along well with the community as a local and I really didn't expect anything like that."

Two masked men entered the shop and yelled at him to put his hands on the ground.

"I didn't realise it was a robbery at that moment but [after] a half a second, I realised it is real."

In August the Prime Minister John Key said some members of the local Chinese community felt their businesses had been targeted by robbers. He warned them not to take matters into their own hands.

Mr Du is originally from China and says his experience has got him thinking more about racially motivated crime in New Zealand.

"You've always heard about things like robberies in Christchurch and in Auckland, targeting [the] Asian community, but I never thought that it could happen to me in real life."

He doesn't know if this attack was racially motivated, but he has Chinese friends whose cars were robbed at Riccarton's Westfield Mall.

"There are heaps of cars parking there, but these two Asians' cars got robbed. I can't say if it's specifically targeting [the] Asian community but I think there's something behind it."

A photo of Adam Du outside the Burwood dairy he works for.

Adam Du says he was aware of other dairy robberies but never expected it to happen to him Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

Robberies on the Rise

The outgoing president of the Police Association, Greg O'Connor, says robberies are up 15 percent across the country and that includes attacks on dairies.

Mr O'Connor says many of the victims are members of New Zealand's ethnic communities, but that is, in part, because they own many of the nation's convenience stores.

He does not believe race is a factor in these crimes. He says fewer people have cash at home now and a burgeoning meth problem has made dairies a source of easy money for drug users.

"Really, you push those who need cash for drugs or to pay off drug debts towards what is one of the almost last places where you're likely to find cash - which is dairies.

"They're also open, if not 24/7, then close to it, so they're available."

A photo of Adam Du in front of the Burwood dairy he has worked for three years. It was robbed in August.

Adam Du had worked at this Burwood dairy for three years before it was robbed in August Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ

The danger to dairy owners is a huge concern for those in the industry.

In 2014, a West Auckland dairy owner, Arun Kumar, was stabbed to death during a botched robbery.

The New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores fears the attacks are escalating, with many of them now taking place in broad daylight.

Executive Director Dave Hooker says for most members, the main worry is for their employees.

"You can put in any number of preventative measures but, at the end of the day, you've still got someone there you’re responsible for."

He says the impact on those who have been robbed can be long-lasting.

"I know of folks that've been held up at gunpoint and they've literally never been able to go back to their position or have gone back on very restricted hours."

Such incidents can be extremely traumatic for bystanders, as well, he says. "You think of a small family dairy where a child may witness this – terrible knock-on effects."

Mr Hooker urges people not to fight back or be a hero.

"It's much easier to claim on your contents insurance rather than your funeral cover."

Instead he advocates security measures such as CCTV footage and fog cannons which, once set off, can fill a dairy with smoke within moments.

The association is keen to get more information on the latest spate of robberies and will work with businesses to develop the best practices to keep everyone safe. he says.

A photo of several different screens. These show CCTV footage of Kamlesh Patel's store taken from security cameras

Kamlesh Patel uses cameras to keep track of customers in his Opawa store Photo: Katy Gosset/RNZ