Backlash against town's crime

By Peter de Graaf

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Kawakawa residents say they've had enough of youths dragging their town down by burgling businesses and abusing tourists.


Locals say the town is suffering from a wave of break-ins and graffiti, drunks harassing visitors at the Hundertwasser toilets, and calls to Kawakawa police station getting no further than the answerphone.


Business owners fear the work they've put into turning the town into a tourist magnet could be undone, hitting jobs and income.


The town's youth woes coincide with a staff shortage at Kawakawa police station, where a number of officers are sick or on leave and the sergeant has yet to be replaced.


Northland police have responded with promises to lift their presence by walking the streets instead of just driving through. They have also installed a phone outside the station connected directly to the police communications centre, so people can talk to someone when Kawakawa's cops are out on the road.


Frustration came to a head last week when the business association called police bosses to a meeting attended by about 60 residents and business owners.


Organiser Richard Duley said people had given up reporting low-level crime because the station was unattended and calls went through to the answerphone.


People at the meeting spoke of brazen main-street burglaries and tourists being harassed for money or having to cross the road to pass youths blocking the footpath. One woman said she had gone to the post office to send mail but found youths sitting on the post box; when she asked them to move they spat on her and racially abused her.


Central Butchery co-owner Chevy Taylor sympathised with police staffing problems but said they needed to be more visible on the streets.


''We're trying to push this town, we're trying to pick it up from a low economic position - but the rugrats are not a good look when tourists are in town. We're trying to come up to the level of other towns like Paihia and Kerikeri, but we can't do it if we don't have the policing.''


Cathyrn Baragwanath, now living in Auckland, said she wanted to come home to Kawakawa - but when she was there she felt ashamed and afraid. She urged people to become more involved in making the town safe, but also told police citizens could not do it on their own.


''We don't have the authority of police and the moment we retaliate, it's us who's in prison,'' she said.


One of the outcomes of the meeting is that the business association will try to follow Paihia's lead by setting up community patrols and a volunteer roster to help staff the front desk at the police station. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Mr Duley at the Kawakawa Farm Centre, who warned it would need good support to work.


''If it's three or four people it's going to be a fizzer.''


Inspector Justin Rogers, of Whangarei police, urged Kawakawa residents to report every crime. Police could not always attend but they needed to know what was happening so they could assign extra staff to trouble spots.

- Northern Advocate

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