Last week, a man entered a service station in East Nowra trailing a young woman. It is alleged that a scuffle broke out at the rear of the store and the man stole the woman’s handbag. A 23-year-old man who was inside the service station at the time, went to help the woman but was allegedly stopped in his tracks when the offender lunged at him with a 40cm machete. The man allegedly involved in this incident was subsequently arrested by NSW police earlier this week. He was charged with multiple offences including robbery armed with offensive weapon; common assault (domestic violence); stalk/intimidate intend fear physical harm; and possess ammunition without holding licence/permit/authority.
The Nowra incident is just one of a worrying number of armed robberies that have been reported by retailers in recent times. While this incident appears to have involved someone known to a service station customer, most of these incidents relate to the theft of relatively minor items from the business – predominantly, small amounts of cigarettes and cash.
On 27 March 2021, two young women robbed three service stations in South-western Sydney. Armed with a rusty axe and knives, the women stole cigarettes and cash from each of the service stations. They were later arrested and charged by NSW Police.
A further high-profile incident occurred late last year, when two young men robbed four service stations in Western Sydney in the space of just 4 hours – two of these sites being located on the same main road and robbed within 20 minutes of each other. Armed with knives, the men stole small amounts of cash from the service stations before torching their stolen vehicle and making their getaway. One of the men involved was later apprehended by NSW Police and charged with multiple offences ranging from attempted robbery and property destruction, to robbery with an offensive weapon.
“What is most worrying about these events is the fact that these are armed robberies involving items of relatively small value, despite presenting very significant risk of human harm for our staff and customers alike”, said ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie.
“The incidence of armed robbery events also appears to be increasing, with one of our members reporting a near doubling of the rate of armed hold-ups since the start of this year”, added Mark.
While there is currently no definitive information about the post-COVID trends in service station robbery, past research completed by the Australian Institute of Criminology (in 2009) provides some strong pointers about the historical nature of service station robberies in Australia. Specifically:
- 89% of service station armed robberies occurred between 6 pm and 6 am. The most common time armed robberies occurred was between 12 am and 3 am (29%). Twenty-eight percent of incidents occurred between 9 pm and 12 am, with 19% of service station armed robberies taking place between 6 pm and 9 pm. These times contrast with the time that armed robbery takes place at other commercial locations.
- While service stations were more likely to be targeted just before or after 12 am (as they are often the only available target), banks, pharmacies and retail outlets were targeted more often during the day because of their hours of operation.
- Only 11% of service station armed robberies occurred during daytime hours (6 am to 6 pm), which is when locations such as newsagencies, post offices, banks, chemists and retail outlets are open.
- Service station armed robberies were most likely to occur on Wednesdays and Sundays. In 2006, approximately 18 % of service station armed robberies occurred on Sundays and 17 % on Wednesdays. The lowest number of armed robberies occurred on Tuesdays (11%). The data did not provide any trends or patterns to indicate why certain days are targeted more than others.
- The most common item of property stolen during a service station armed robbery was cash (83%). Alcohol and drugs accounted for five percent of property stolen. Cigarettes were the most targeted item within the ‘alcohol and drugs’ category.
There apparent increase in armed robberies at services station comes amidst suggestions that the rate of general crime across society is on the increase post COVID 19, largel due to more people feeling disassociated by rolling lockdowns and a general feeling of unease within the community at large.
“Regardless of the cause, the recent spate of armed robberies is a wake-up call for all of us about the need to take extra precautions to guard against theft and human harm to our staff and customers”, said Mark.
Now is the time to remind staff about what to do if they are unlucky enough to be involved in an armed robbery. The key principles are:
- Remain Calm. This means not putting yourself (or others around you) at risk by acting aggressively towards the perpetrator.
- Adopt passive body posture. Adopt a non-aggressive stance and try to keep a safe distance between yourself and the perpetrator. Turn side on to avoid exposing your chest to injury.
- Calm compliance. Calmly follow the reasonable directions of the perpetrator.
- Careful observance. Make mental notes to yourself about the appearance of the perpetrator, any accomplices, language accents, time of day, and any details of getaway vehicles.
- Record details, lock doors and notify management and police. As soon as the perpetrators have left, lock all doors and make a written note of all details before contacting management and police.
“For users of ACAPMA’s online Petroleum Convenience Compliance Course, it is suggested that now is the time for staff to complete a refresher of the Security and Robbery module”, said Mark.
In the meantime, ACAPMA is seeking to prepare a brief that updates past research on service station robberies, with a particular focus on the events that are occurring in the post COVID 19 environment.
“This information will be used to engage State/Territory Police forces over coming months on the nature of the current issues and to identify what strategies might jointly be pursued to reduce the incidence and risk of armed robberies within our industry”, concluded Mark.
ACAPMA is therefore interested in hearing from members about recent experiences with armed robbery at service stations. Members can provide these details by emailing the ACAPMA Secretariat at email@example.com or by calling 1300 160 270.