Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Winning the war on crime

Police are trumpeting 29,337 fewer crimes in the year ending June thanks to a new prevention strategy and upgraded equipment for frontliners. But not everyone is convinced crime is dropping.

Htoolar Wah Shwe, pictured with her mother Mga, felt unsafe. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Htoolar Wah Shwe, pictured with her mother Mga, felt unsafe. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Burglaries, car thefts and drug crimes are down around the country, by almost a quarter in some places.

Annual police statistics released yesterday showed big reductions in crime across the board, resulting in 29,337 fewer offences in the year ending June than in the year before.

Police have attributed the drop in recorded offences to a new crime prevention strategy and upgraded equipment for frontliners.

In the 2012-13 year, 365,185 criminal offences were reported to police, compared with 394,522 in 2011-12.

"Police are delighted that there were far fewer victims of crime in the last financial year," Deputy Commissioner Viv Rickard said.

"That's our core business."

Nationally, burglaries were down 10.1 per cent and thefts of cars and from them were down 13.2 per cent.

Notably, Waitemata had 23.7 per cent fewer burglaries and Auckland City's total fell by 22.8 per cent.

Mr Rickard said the reduction in property crime could be attributed to two main areas - the police adoption of the Prevention First strategy and officers being issued with smartphones and tablets.

The strategy aims to prevent crime and victimisation instead of reacting to it. Police officers were focused on being in the right place at the right time, and were sent to hot spots at peak crime times.

"The stated goal of this strategy is to reduce total crime by 13 per cent by the end of the 2014/15 financial year," Mr Rickard said. "The 7.4 per cent reduction in 2012/13 is a significant step to achieving this goal.

"Police want all New Zealanders to feel safe in their homes and in their communities.The figures are a credit to our staff who are committed to making New Zealand communities safer."

The introduction of smartphones this year was intended to have frontline cops on the beat more and in the office less. That resulted in higher police visibility in the community, and improved their ability to respond to incidents more quickly and pre-empt potential offending.

"That makes our communities feel safer and will hopefully translate to even greater crime reduction in the future. It is really heartening to see our crime rate is dropping but New Zealand communities can be assured there will be no complacency."

Neighbourhood Support national manager Roger Eynon said the fall in property crime was good news.

"Neighbourhood Support works very closely with police on a number of fronts," he said. "It could be to highlight someone at risk and act as a conduit to assist a search, or it could be something as simple as spotting something out of character.

"We also assist in reducing the opportunities for low level offending."

Mr Eynon said it wasn't just the job of the police to prevent crime.

"Prevention First has made a big difference because it centres on removing the issues that lead to criminal activity. We have a lot of work to do yet, but everyone plays their part."

Automobile Association principal adviser Mark Stockdale said that alongside police visibility, fewer cars were being stolen and broken into because of better anti-crime technology including alarms and immobilisers.

"Many new cars have that fitted as standard," he said. "As we get more, fewer and fewer vehicles can be stolen.

"New Zealand vehicle theft is stubborn and higher compared to other countries, so there is certainly more that can be done to reduce vehicle theft. The AA would like to see more voluntary uptake of immobilisers, that prevent 60 per cent of opportunistic thefts."

Drug offending - including dealing, trafficking, importing, exporting, manufacturing, cultivating, possession and use - plummeted by 20.6 per cent throughout the country. Many districts have hammered cannabis offending, targeting top end dealers and growers and destroying as much crop as possible.

But methamphetamine remained a problem.

"Our intelligence indicates that the price of methamphetamine remains high but steady which indicates that supply is stable," Mr Rickard said.

"Unfortunately methamphetamine is not going away. Police will continue to commit resources to disrupt supply and reduce the harm these drugs cause."

Sex offending increased by 10.2 per cent, but police said they were pleased with that result because the numbers reflected more victims coming forward and having a "greater trust and confidence in police".

"We believe that historically sexual violence is under-reported to authorities," Mr Rickard said.

"Police are heartened that victims of this type of crime are coming forward and we want to assure them that police take all complaints of sexual violence seriously."

The Sensible Sentencing Trust commended police for their "dedication to reducing crime".

"But we are sadly facing an increased demand for our services which would indicate to us that crime is in fact not dropping at all," said spokeswoman Ruth Money.

She believed fewer people reported lower-level crime, put off by police response time, low resolution rates and lack of resources.

She said the statistics did not reflect the true crime rate as they did not include family violence or Youth Court offending.

Police said yesterday they were working on family violence data that would provide a more accurate picture. The information was not included in the annual crime statistics but would be made public soon.

Said Ms Money: "While we would like to be celebrating this news, we believe we have a long way to go before we will enjoy the reality of a crime drop." said Ms Money.

Theft victims two views

A teenager whose home was broken into this year is pleased the number of burglaries is said to be dropping because the crime left her feeling worried and unsafe.

Htoolar Wah Shwe, 18, lost her computer in a burglary as she was about to start her last year of school.

She said the unsettled feeling was worse than the loss of her possessions.

She thought it was good police were using technology such as smartphones and tablets.

"We felt so unsafe, especially my parents, because there are too many dodgy people around here."

She said she had noticed more police cars near her Papatoetoe home and found their presence reassuring.

Police paying known crime areas special attention was a comfort because thieves often returned - sometimes just after the goods had been replaced.

Even though burglary was not as serious as assaults or some other crimes, she felt it was worthy of police attention because of the effect on victims.

Another victim, who wanted to be known only as Paul, said he had property including an LCD monitor and food stolen from his holiday home in the Waikato.

He did not feel it was worth the insurance claim but reported it to police - which was a "complete waste of time".

He said a "clerk" made a note of what was stolen and took his name, address and birthdate. "But then no follow-up, zero."

These property thefts were not showing on crime statistics, which were "total crap".

- Andrew Koubaridis

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