24th February, 2020:
Frightening evidence has emerged of a service station owner’s pleas for help from local police being summarily and mockingly dismissed, even as their store is repeatedly targeted by criminals. The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has labelled the police’s treatment of the small business owner as “unnecessarily disrespectful and disgracefully lazy.”
The AACS has also called it disappointing that calls to responsible state ministers to discuss these issues, for a true understanding of the extent and expectations of business owners, are ignored.
AACS has seen correspondence from a service station operator in Victoria, detailed overleaf with names and locations removed to protect the small business’s privacy, which presents a distressing but all too familiar picture of the current state of crime against convenience stores.
It highlights the blasé approach of some police in responding to crime, says AACS CEO Jeff Rogut.
“AACS has represented the convenience industry for 30 years and the sheer volume and aggressive nature of crimes against stores has never been greater. In Victoria specifically, it’s inexcusable that our repeated representations to ministers on the issue of crime are ignored,” Mr Rogut said.
“The way this person, who is merely trying to protect their livelihood and the safety of their staff and customers, is treated is unnecessarily disrespectful and disgracefully lazy.
“We acknowledge that many individual officers and areas of command do good work in seeking to catch and punish criminals who rob stores and threaten staff. But a blanket zero-tolerance approach, aligning the police with the courts and the legislature, is urgently needed.
“Certainly, there is a direct financial loss to the business when these crimes are committed, but the significant trauma experienced by staff is just not acceptable.
“Petrol drive-offs are thefts. They demand further investigation, especially given the prevalence of these crimes being committed by people often in unregistered vehicles and with stolen plates, or just engaging in blatant criminal action.”
Mr Rogut has also called for a reciprocal effort from police as stores are invariably willing to assist police in their enquiries, such as by combing through CCTV footage, whenever asked.
The following is the full unedited correspondence sent from a Victorian service station which highlights the all-too-common issues convenience operators face.
I am sending this email to you in regards to the ongoing problems I am having seeking help from [LOCAL] police when required.
Since I have started at this site, the assistance from [LOCAL] police has been average at best but in the last 2 months it has steadily decreased to virtually non-existent. Please see below some examples of what I believe is unsatisfactory responses to incidents from [LOCAL] Police:
- 16/01/20 Two drive offs this day – First one occurred at 1.29pm (Ran registration through VicRoads website – Came up as stolen car and to contact Victoria Police). Second one occurred at 3.56pm (Ran registration through VicRoads website – Unregistered vehicle). Police were called at least 5 times between 1.30pm and 5.00pm. I was put through to the police assistance line on one occasion where a message was left for the station to return my call, but this call was never returned. On the other occasions the phone would ring 3-4 times before it was simply picked up and hung up. Fed up, I went in to the police station in person where I stood in the foyer waiting for 10 minutes before a police officer came out to acknowledge me. When I spoke to the officer at the counter about the incidents and asked about the lack of response from the station I was told ‘we have priorities’. While I am understanding of the fact that drive offs are not the most pressing issue that the police have to deal with, I left the police station feeling like my issues had been completely disregarded and were not a big enough crime to be worth dealing with.
- 16/01/20 I returned to the police station at roughly 8pm the same night to hand in paperwork and footage for the above incidents. While I was there, I spoke to the member behind the counter [OFFICER NAME WITHHELD] in regards to an ongoing issue I am having with a customer who comes in to my store. This customer is known to police and always enters the store wearing either a balaclava or bandana tied around his face. When he is asked to remove the items so that his face is visible he uses offensive language and is extremely aggressive towards my staff (the police have been called 3 times in the past regarding this customer when he has become aggressive – on one occasion the police arrived 90 minutes after the call, on the other 2 occasions they did not attend the site at all). I asked the officer what I could do to deal with this problem and he suggested that I take out a personal protection order against the individual to keep him away from the business. I was informed that to go down this path I would need the offending customers details. [OFFICER NAME WITHHELD] told me that he knew who I was talking about but did not know his name, he said he would ask around and stop into the store the next day with the man’s details but this never eventuated. This was now 4 weeks ago, in that time I have left 5 messages for [OFFICER NAME WITHELD] and I am yet to receive a call back from him.
- 20/01/20 [LOCAL] police were called for a welfare check on a customer who was clearly drug affected upon entering the store and had fallen asleep at a table in our dining room. This was during the overnight shift where there was one female console operator onsite alone. She was feeling uncomfortable with the situation and requested police attendance to the site. She was basically told that it was not a priority and that they may be able get someone there. The police did not attend.
- 02/02/20 Detectives arrived on site and told staff to ‘Call the manager and get her to come in’ so that I could burn footage for a pending police investigation. They left a mobile number, which staff forwarded to me and I returned the call the same day. They were quite adamant that they wanted me to drive in to work to burn surveillance footage. I explained that it was my day off, and that I would be in by 5am the next morning and I would contact them as soon as I had what they needed.
- 03/02/20 Through out the day I spent over 3 hours hunting for the footage that had been requested, it took this long as the suspected offender was in my store more than 18 hours before the time I was given by police. 2 lots of footage was burned and provided to police.
- 10/02/20 [LOCAL] CIU attended site to request footage for a stolen credit card used for 5 separate transactions processed onsite on 06/02/20. Again over an hour was spent finding and burning footage to assist police. While reviewing the footage, it was discovered that the offender in possession of the stolen credit card had also stolen a walkntalk charge & sync cable (valued at $24.95) while in store. When the officers returned to pick up the requested surveillance footage, I stated that this offender had also been responsible for shoplifting on this occasion. The officer (I am unable to read his handwriting so am not sure of his surname, but his first name is [OFFICER NAME WITHHELD] and is CIU) told me he would return to site before 2pm the next day to get further details so that he could pursue it further (It is now 2.30pm 11/02/20 and he has not returned). Due to the theft in store and the fact that the offender is a regular customer, I decided that the best course of action to try to prevent further losses to the business is to ban the customer from the store. To serve the customer with a banning notice I am aware that I need the offender’s details (name, address etc.) or it is not worth the paper it is written on. I asked the officer for these details and he told me that they would pass them on to me the second they had them. These details have not been passed on to me and given the fact that I am not from [LOCATION] and know very few people here, yet I have already managed to find out her name and that she is known to police, in less than 24 hours, I find it hard to believe that [LOCAL] police don’t have those details to pass on to me.
- 11/02/20 Called [LOCAL] police to chase up details of the offender (as I still need her address) and to find out what they are going to do about the theft from the store (they need to pick up the further information requested). I was put through to [OFFICER NAME WITHHELD], where I was left on call waiting for 21 minutes only to be told that ‘maybe he’s not here, do you want him to call you back?’
Now these are just the incidents that I have documented over the last month, but other incidents that police were called to, but did not attend include, people smoking ice and dealing at the front of the store and staff members having to deal with aggressive, threatening and drug affected customers.
When [LOCAL] Police request assistance from me (surveillance footage…etc) there is an expectation from them that I will do it straight away (regardless of if it is my day off), and I have spent hours of the company’s time chasing footage for [LOCAL] Police so that they can solve crime that doesn’t impact our business, yet when a crime is committed against our business and I want action taken I’m told that it is not a ‘priority’. While the police will sometimes need to make other crimes a priority over our issues, I struggle to understand how the police expect me to make searching through footage for a $30 transaction on a stolen credit card a priority when any crimes committed against us or threats to our safety are completely disregarded.
Chief Executive Officer
Australasian Association of Convenience Stores
Ph: +61 467 873 789