Overnight ram-raids replaced with something worse in Waikato

In a region hit hard by retail crime, anxiety over night-time ram-raids has been replaced by something worse.

Waikato police say businesses are increasingly being targeted by young armed robbers, striking during business hours.

Gordonton Superette owner Manish Thakkar shared a video with 1News of a robbery last month where he was attacked with fists and then threatened with a handgun. The robbery happened at 7pm, with customers in the store.

"He pointed the gun at me and asked me to give him all my money," Thakkar said. "His hand was constantly on the trigger."

He said it was ninth or 10th robbery in recent years, adding the attack made him angry.

"I was just thinking, how can I punish these guys? I was looking for something.

"If I could get something in my hand, I would have bashed them."

Thakkar and another retailer, Ash Parmar, recently joined a community panel working with Waikato police.

"We told the politicians, and we told the police, that aggravated robberies will go up because they can't just do an easy ram-raid on a liquor store or dairy," Parmar said.

Waikato District Commander Superintendent Bruce Bird said ram-raids had declined since December, as shop owners increasingly protected their premises with bollards, and as police made a series of arrests.

But he confirmed aggravated robberies had increased. There were 72 in total last year, but already 28 in the first two months of 2023.

That trend suggested there could be well over 100 by year's end.

"They're just an horrific offence," said Bird. "They're there with the intention of terrorising just anybody who happens to be in the place, and the psychological harm on people is very, very difficult for a lot of people to deal with."

Bird said knives and machetes were often used in these aggravated robberies and, like the ram-raids, they were often committed by teenagers.

He said police had a dedicated unit set up to tackle these crimes.

"We are deeply, deeply concerned about it and deeply, deeply motivated to apprehend the offenders," he said.

Parmar said that in the last few weeks, four retailers that he knew of had decided to close their businesses altogether.

1News met one of those business owners, Bhupendra Patel, while he was clearing shelves at his Claudelands superette.

He'd suffered one aggravated robbery, but that was enough.

"This time six people entered," Patel said. "Tomorrow, 15 might enter. Where are we going to end up? In hospital?"

Thakkar said he also wanted to sell up, but he wanted to wait until the crime had gone away, so a new owner could run the business peacefully.

1News put it to him that could be a long time.

"I know that," Thakkar said.