Hundreds of suspects avoiding arrest

By Lydia Anderson

Almost 400 wanted East Coast and Hawke's Bay suspects are evading police, dozens of whom face serious violence, sexual offending or dishonesty charges.

Ministry of Justice figures released under the Official Information Act show 394 defendants were wanted on active warrants in the East Coast and Hawke's Bay areas as of June 30.

The data is based on outstanding arrest warrants issued since 2004. It shows 28 people were wanted for committing violent acts, five for crimes relating to sexual assaults and 37 for theft and dishonesty offences.

Eight warrants for East Coast and Hawke's Bay suspects have been outstanding for at least nine years.

The most common crimes local defendants are wanted for are offences against justice procedures such as breaching bail, 142; traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, 114; and theft and dishonesty offences, 37.

New welfare reforms introduced by Social Development Minster Paula Bennett on July 15 mean welfare recipients who fail to clear outstanding arrest warrants within 38 days can now have their benefits stopped, or halved if they have children.

About 8000 beneficiaries have arrest warrants outstanding nationally for issues such as unpaid fines.

However, police said it was too early to gauge whether the reforms had resulted in a surge of beneficiaries coming forward to clear warrants.

A warrant is issued by a judge when someone accused of a crime fails to appear in court or breaches their bail conditions. It may also be issued for someone who is suspected of a crime but is still at large in the community.

Nationwide, 8249 active warrants are outstanding.

Local police referred questions to National Police Headquarters.

National manager criminal investigations Detective Superintendent Rod Drew said anyone on an active warrant for a serious offence was of concern.

"Police use a number of tools and methods to proactively track down those on outstanding warrants, including tracing known associates, friends and family, and also by sharing information with other agencies both nationally and internationally."

Mr Drew said social media also played a part in tracking down wanted criminals. Police had 29 Facebook pages, 10 Twitter accounts, two YouTube channels and a commissioner's blog.

They were used in various ways including locating wanted people, intelligence gathering for investigations, road policing updates and real-time information during emergencies.

Sensible Sentencing Trust national spokesman Garth McVicar said tracking down criminals with outstanding warrants was costing taxpayers money and wasting police resources.

"And it's taking the police away from their main focus in catching criminals and reducing crime."

He said it was good to see police were now liaising with Customs officials to stop those with outstanding warrants leaving the country.

Ministry of Justice district courts general manager Tony Fisher said there were several reasons an arrest warrant could remain outstanding for a long period. A defendant could have left the country and never returned, in which case the warrant would stay on record.

Alternatively, a defendant might be dead, or using an alias to avoid detection.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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