Ram raid and burglaries force Auckland liquor store owner to sleep in store

Police minister reflects on recent ram raids as National calls for policy change. Video / NZ Herald

An Auckland liquor store owner who has suffered four burglaries and a ram raid since November is now sleeping inside his store to deter thieves.

It comes after several brazen raids took place this week, including the high-profile incident at the Ormiston Town Center shopping mall in South Auckland where three vehicles slammed into the mall, leaving more than a dozen people to fly from various stores on Monday.

Police have acknowledged an increase in ram raids and fear these offences, largely committed by teenagers as young as 11, could turn deadly.

What remained of a vehicle involved in a ram raid in Mt Wellington, Auckland this month.  Photo / Hayden Woodward
What remained of a vehicle involved in a ram raid in Mt Wellington, Auckland this month. Photo / Hayden Woodward

Now, some businesses are hiring private security guards to patrol the streets in hopes of warding off thieves.

Anna Zheng and her husband Andy Lin own the Sandringham Liquor Centre, which is in the bustling business hub of Auckland’s central suburbs.

Sadly they had become a target for thieves and had been broken into twice in November last year and twice more on Tuesday and Thursday last week.

This was in addition to a ram raid they suffered on March 27.

Anna Zheng stands next to a makeshift wooden door, installed following a ram raid on her store in March.  Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Anna Zheng stands next to a makeshift wooden door, installed following a ram raid on her store in March. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

The attackers stole cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol and money. Over the five incidents, the estimated loss of product was approximately $50,000.

Zheng, 55, told the NZ Herald that her husband – armed with a bat – had started sleeping in the store since Thursday, fearing thieves might return.

She said Lin only allowed himself to doze off in a chair in front of security cameras, fearing he would fall into a deep sleep if he was on a mattress.

After the ram raid, the couple had to install a temporary wooden door while they waited for a replacement.

Zheng said she had ordered bollards and a rolling gate, but she feared the demand for building materials would make her wait up to 10 weeks for them to be installed.

“I just feel angry, upset,” Zheng said.

“It’s so stressful.”

Anna Zheng (right), owner of the Sandringham Liquor Centre, and Jithin Chittibomma, chairman of the Sandringham Business Association.  Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Anna Zheng (right), owner of the Sandringham Liquor Centre, and Jithin Chittibomma, chairman of the Sandringham Business Association. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Zheng suspected that the same people were behind all four burglaries, given the similarities in how they broke into the store and stole items.

The couple had owned the store for 13 years. Until last year, the worst they had experienced was shoplifters walking out with a bottle or two.

Now, with five incidents in six months, Zheng said she has become very suspicious of new customers and is easily startled by loud noises.

“I’m so worried about this.”

Sandringham Business Association president Jithin Chittibomma and his family owned another liquor store in the area and sympathized with Zheng’s concerns.

“It’s so sad and scary because it can happen to my family too and my brother might be sleeping in the store,” he said.

Among the more worrying aspects, it emerged that the perpetrators were members of the Sandringham community, which Chittibomma said was fueled by xenophobia towards Indian business owners in the area.

“They don’t see them as New Zealanders, they probably see them as outsiders.”

Sandringham Business Association chairman Jithin Chittibomma doesn't want to see any more businesses suffer at the hands of criminals.  Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Sandringham Business Association chairman Jithin Chittibomma doesn’t want to see any more businesses suffer at the hands of criminals. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Chittibomma believed violators were also selling their stolen goods to other businesses, citing a case where a man offered him 300 vaping products well below market rate.

Zheng and Chittibomma didn’t want to blame the police, acknowledging there was not much they could do.

However, the couple – along with other Sandringham businesses – were now in talks with a local private security team, Patriot Security Services, to establish regular patrols in the area.

“If the police can’t protect us, we have to do something to protect ourselves,” Zheng said.

“We will fight back in the right way,” Chittibomma said.

Nuttall Jewelers in Birkenhead, Auckland, was hit by rams in March.  Photo/Michael Craig
Nuttall Jewelers in Birkenhead, Auckland, was hit by rams in March. Photo/Michael Craig

Patriot Security Services chief Marcus Gorinski said he was devastated by the crime affecting small businesses in Auckland.

“It really touched me, I’m really sick of seeing these places being redone.”

Gorinski explained that there would likely be a day shift and a night shift, with a larger presence in the early morning hours when many incidents occurred.

Although he admitted that not all crimes could be prevented, Gorinski believed that security personnel patrolling the streets would reduce their frequency.

“It will have an impact, [security staff] just need to be seen.”

Late yesterday, eight offenders attempted to raid the GAS Kaurilands petrol station in Titirangi, West Auckland. They were unable to steal anything but caused thousands of dollars in damage.

A bollard outside the GAS Kaurilands petrol station in West Auckland was destroyed in an attempted ram raid on Tuesday night.  Photo/Adam Pearse
A bollard outside the GAS Kaurilands petrol station in West Auckland was destroyed in an attempted ram raid on Tuesday night. Photo/Adam Pearse

As well as Monday’s incident in Ormiston, Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores on Queen St in Auckland, Titirangi’s Scenic Dairy, Pāpāmoa Four Square and a Four Square in Thames also suffered ram raids this month.

Manukau Counties Police Detective Inspector Karen Bright told reporters today the incidents were a ‘tragedy waiting to happen’, given the youth of the offenders.

“We know that [the people involved] are very young, 11 to 14 years old in many cases. We have crowded cars in the middle of the night driven by very young people. We are really worried.”

Bright said police were working with social media companies after it became apparent images of ram raids were often posted online and used as motivation for others.

Bright acknowledged the fear reported by retailers and reassured them that police were investigating all infractions.

About Byron G. Fazio

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