12 Aug 2023

The dairy owner who built himself a cage to work in

8:54 pm on 12 August 2023

By Emma Hatton of Newsroom

The Knighton Road dairy has two layers of steel protection, as well as a caged entrance that customers can only enter if unlocked by the owner.

The Knighton Road dairy has two layers of steel protection, as well as a caged entrance that customers can only enter if unlocked by the owner. Photo: Newsroom / Emma Hatton

To try and prevent burglaries as well as protect himself, a Hamilton dairy owner has invented a cage he now works inside. About 25 other dairies in the city have since copied his design. Emma Hatton of Newsroom reports.

Jay Patel describes his shop on Knighton Road in Hamilton as "the hell place".

The storefront is confronting. It's adorned with two layers of thick steel barriers - a security grille and steel bars. Concrete bollards stand in front along the pavement.

Standing in the entrance to the shop triggers a doorbell. Patel looks down from behind the counter - which has quick access to a fog cannon - to see who is there, buzzing them in through a second steel door if you pass his test.

Four seconds and the gate locks behind you.

There's separate access to vape products where customers tell him what they want from behind a hard plastic barrier and he goes and gets it for them.

Once inside there are nine cameras to cover the 30 square metre shop. A screen showing five camera angles at once sits beyond the counter, in Patel's vision at all times.

Underneath the counter there's a doorbell that will ring inside the hairdressers next door - an extra precaution.

"I never thought I'd need this much protection," he said.

"My cousin, who is like my brother got a machete on his head. He got 30 or 40 stitches on his head in 2018. That was when we put the cage in.

"So we got the cage, his store and my sisters store got it ... we did that straight away."

He reconfigured his dairy so the counter had full visibility to the front door.

"Now at least no one can come straight in, because the robbers have their masks and dark clothes... so they need to take off the hoodies before I let them in.

"At least then we catch the face if they do [steal]."

His cage design with double doors and an auto-lock is now in more than 25 stores across Hamilton, he says.

"First [the customers] were not happy and some told me they weren't coming back. But now it's okay.

"Heaps of shops have them now, more than 25. The owners call me and ask who made it so I gave them the number of the guy."

Jay Patel installed the cage after his cousin was attacked in 2018.

Jay Patel installed the cage after his cousin was attacked in 2018. Photo: Newsroom / Emma Hatton

Police victimisations data shows an increase in victims of theft and related offences in Hamilton, with a sharp uptick from 2020.

In 2015 from January to May there were 2537 recorded victimisations.

By 2021 for the same period it was 4297 and this year the total was 5853.

Patel's security has not come cheap. The cage cost him $5000, the steel bars $15,000, cameras $5000, plus there are extras each year. He's just spent another $1000 getting brighter outdoor lights installed so he can see who is waiting outside the shop.

His insurance excess is also sky-high meaning it's rarely worth claiming unless the robbery is substantial.

The year before his cousin's attack, Patel was robbed at axe-point.

"They put it on my head so I just [hands up] straight away and said you take whatever you want. A customer was here as well... They didn't care."

"And after that every customer I thought they were a robber ... it's exhausting."

He's been robbed twice by people with weapons (an axe and a screwdriver), ram-raided twice, and burgled overnight about 10 times he estimates, but has lost count.

"One time it was three times in 10 days they broke the glass," he recalls.

He wants to sell but can't.

"We want to sell but no one wants to buy this shop right now. Yep we are stuck.

"This is the hell place," he repeats.

As we speak a steady stream of evening customers come and go. Each one Patel studies closely before deciding whether to unlock the cage or not.

He is constantly on alert. A customer choosing a loaf of bread seems to take a long time. Patel watches the entire time.

The dairy now closes earlier than it used to.

The dairy now closes earlier than it used to. Photo: Newsroom / Emma Hatton

"It's exhausting," he admits.

The dairy used to be open longer but it now closes at 7.30pm and even earlier on weekends.

Patel likes the idea of National's military boot camp but only because it means, for him, it gets offenders off the street.

"Then we are safe for a while ... it's something.

"It's mostly young ones, 16, 17, 18, but it is all ages... I'm extra careful with young people."

He plays a video on his phone sent from a friend who owns a vape shop in Whakatane.

It shows a robbery in the early hours of the morning with five people hacking their way into the shop with hammers. One person films it. Stock is ransacked and carried out in boxes, a big mess left behind.

"This just happens every day.

"We are helpless. We pay the tax, we are working hard and still - look - we are in the jail ... it's unfair."

- This story was originally published by Newsroom

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