Gunman targets berry farm cafe
The sign outside Julians Berry Farm & Café on February 7 told the story: “Closed today due to armed robbery. Open tomorrow.” Just inside the entrance, and a bullet hole in the floor underlined its gravity.
Monica and Paul Julian have been running the 10-hectare berry farm and café complex at its current site just out of Whakatane for 17 years, and in all that time there’s never been anything remotely as frightening or dangerous as what happened that Tuesday.
As Paul tells it, a hooded man with a gun came into the cafe around 1:20 in the afternoon and demanded money. A customer, whom Paul described as “a loyal supporter of the berry farm”, intervened trying to talk the man out of taking any action, which eventually led to some pushing. “He moved backwards to where that gunshot is, four metres or something, and then a shot was fired.” Paul said the pellets ricocheted throughout the shop, hitting several people, causing some minor injuries. The man eventually left without any money. A day later, the police announced a 26-year-old had been taken into custody and said no one else was being sought.
Paul and Monica were on a 30-kilometre training run for an Oxfam Trailwalker challenge and arrived back at the café a few minutes after the man had left. Both have nothing but praise for the swift action of the police and the calm response from their staff as well as the 60 or so customers who were in the café at the time. But what happened that day has caused them to give fresh thought to staff training, security measures and having an emergency plan in place.
Monica says in the wake of the robbery attempt, they’ll look at training around about what to do and what not to do in that kind of situation — things like not looking the person in the eyes to avoid antagonizing them, opening your hands, focusing on one piece of clothing so you can help identify the suspect to police. The Julians are also considering installing security cameras.
“We’re well drilled now on tsunamis and earthquakes and ladders and burns and knives and sunburn, windburn, lifting — all that kind of stuff,” Paul says. “None of that stuff has actually happened, and yet a gunman has.”
The Julians point to isolation as a risk factor for rural or roadside businesses like theirs, something Mark van der Kley, officer in charge at Whakatane Police Station, agrees is an issue.
“It’s not quite so bad in this case, but often it’s the distance, it’s not just handy to us to just race out there,” Mark says. “Also I suppose they’ve immediately got some getaway areas.” He said in a robbery situation, police always advised complying with whatever the person was asking for. “That’s the safest thing to do, don’t try to be the hero.”
“It’s just so rare, I can’t think of another one in the area,” Mark said, adding that security measures were about using common sense, like not having much cash on the premises and possibly having surveillance cameras to identify a suspect.
Julians Berry Farm & Café is a popular Whakatane fixture, open from September to February and employing up to 80 people at its busiest. The Julians have seven hectares at the site planted in berries, including strawberries, blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and blueberries, which they pick fresh and sell at the café. They also make and sell ice-cream, provide mini golf, an animal farm and a basketball court.
CRIME PREVENTION EFFORTS
Rural crime is common, but also commonly under-reported, according to Federated Farmers. And while horticulture hasn’t previously been at the forefront of rural crime prevention efforts, that’s changing with the rise in recent years of avocado thefts, particularly in the Bay of Plenty. A police and rural stakeholders partnership, which was set up in 2015, recently invited Horticulture New Zealand to join its ranks, and plans to hold a workshop on March 7 in Katikati, the heart of avocado country.
Dave Flett is the Hort NZ representative for the partnership, and also an avocado grower and Bay of Plenty rep on the NZ Avocado Growers Association. He says the workshop marks the start of an awareness raising effort to make sure orchardists know what to do to prevent fruit thefts or deal with illegal activity if they suspect it. “What we’re trying to do is prevent it by making sure that our orchardists have their best practice in place to protect themselves and the orchard.”
He said the police were aware of the problem, and last year visited shops in Te Puke looking for stolen fruit. “It does stand out because it’s not professionally picked, and if they find people doing this, they’re saying, ‘Do you realise you could be breaking the law here by selling stolen goods.’” Dave said if growers suspect illegal activity on their orchards, they should not try to tackle it themselves, but should call the police.
“It’s just so rare, I can’t think of another one in the area.” Mark van der Kley, Whakatane Police
From top: Paul and Monica Julian at their berry farm café: Looking at training around about what to do and what not to do in that kind of situation. This sign outside Julians on the day of the attempted robbery.