A petrol station should not have to be a fortress that might come under attack at any moment.

But that is the terrifying reality faced every day and night by the hundreds of workers who staff dozens of service stations around Waikato.

An upsurge of crime and theft in recent years has effectively made service stations into forts and redoubts that are weathering an increasingly ferocious invasion of crime: robberies, ramraids, shoplifting, petrol drive-offs and a torrent of verbal and sometimes physical abuse.

Now one operator of several service stations is speaking out in an attempt to prick the conscience of those who see them as easy targets.

“I just want them to realise that these are human beings that they are hurting,” says Briar Farrar, who operates nine of the Z Energy service stations in Waikato.

“And they are all fabulous human beings, really lovely, hard-working people – I just want the people who are attacking them to realise there’s an impact.

“It’s just been robbery after robbery … I am living in fear that someone is going to get seriously hurt one day.”

One member of her “work family” who she is most concerned for is a staffer at the Huntly Z station, which had been had been hit twice earlier this year by groups of robbers.

“He was lucky in that both times he saw them coming, so he hit the alarm, got into the safe room and activated the fog cannon.”

In both of those robberies the invaders got away with little – just a few bags of lollies on the first occasion and “pretty much nothing” on the second.

Another station regularly subject to the unwanted attention of thieves and other wrongdoers is at Five Crossroads.

“It’s honestly like the wild west here,” said Farrar, looking warily around the forecourt as cars with blacked out windows slowly, sinisterly circle by and people in tattered dressing gowns shamble in.

The store is seen as an easy target for thieves – “they just fill up their bags and go” – and another recent issue has been beggars using the premises to assail people with pleas for spare cash as they go in and out.

“And if it is not the beggars, it is customers having a go at my staff about the beggars. It’s a pretty tough gig.”

How often do the staff get abused? “I’d say it would be about three to four incidents each day,” staff member Hardika Italia said.

The reasons for the abuse varied. Often it was simple racism. Some were motorists seeking mechanical help for their vehicles, who then became aggrieved when it became apparent the staff did not have they expertise they wanted.

“Some of our customers think we are a bank, and then get angry with us if we are unable to provide them with change.”

Sometimes cans of drink are hurled at those behind the counter. Recently, an entire display of Chupa Chups was chucked at another staffer.

The abuse in particular had soared since Covid.

“The thing is, [the robbers] don’t see a human being,” Farrar said. “They just don’t care.”

Why was it so bad? “It’s a whole societal thing. On every level we need to see a change.”

A big part of the reason was the lack of sufficient penalties imposed by the courts.

“There’s no deterrent. There’s no consequence for them doing it … They are simply out and walking down the street the next day.”

One aspect that was improving was the number of petrol drive-offs, thanks to number plate recognition technology and much-improved security cameras.

Farrar describes herself as a “retailer” as opposed to an owner-operator.

“We don’t own the fuel, and we have no control whatsoever over the fuel price. A lot of people don’t realise that and they get angry when it goes up.”

The fuel company had been making a massive investment in security – $33 million nationwide – to counter the rising crime issues, and making sure robbers in particular would get away with nothing but the police on their tail.

Doors and windows had been reinforced, fog cannons installed, safe rooms constructed, and all 121 of her staff were equipped with “panic button” pendants to raise the alarm instantaneously.

“Wrap-around” counselling services were always available for the staff. Anyone who needed to take time off following an incident could take as much time as they needed, Farrar said.

“That’s not sick leave or annual leave. We just keep paying them as if they were on shift.”

Some of the stations – including the oft-hit Huntly store – had security guards stationed at night. Any cash was kept in a safe bolted to the floor that the staff themselves could not access, and the vending machine for tobacco products was now firmly braced as well – “so they don’t actually get anything”.

“I have to emphasise that the vast majority of our customers are great. It’s only the actions of an absolute minority are putting the pressure on and causing all this trouble.

“The community police here in Hamilton are excellent … They are mostly catching everyone who hits us now, which is great.”

But despite all that, “I still live in fear. If my phone rings in the middle of the night, I just go up through the roof.”

Extracted in full from: https://www.waikatotimes.co.nz/nz-news/350229058/under-siege-thievery-robbery-begging-and-abuse-pile-pressure-service-station