Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Police getting streetwise on car crime

Car parks are among the most popular property-theft hotspots in Auckland, but whose responsibility is it to make sure your belongings are safe? A special Herald investigation.

Nique van Selm is waiting to see whether her car will be written off. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Nique van Selm is waiting to see whether her car will be written off. Photo / Steven McNicholl

"Hot spots" where motorists are most likely to have their car broken into have been pinpointed in new police tactics to reduce Auckland's staggering property-crime statistics.

The city's most popular car parks are among favourite targets for thieves, but the managers refuse to take any responsibility for crimes committed in their buildings.

Take a closer look at where crime hotspots are in our infographic.

Sites run by Wilson and Tournament as well as those at Westfield shopping centres carry signposted disclaimers to absolve the business of any blame but are among the repeat crime zones identified by police analysis of data.

Nearly 10,000 cars were broken into last year. Police are urging car-park owners to invest in better security, such as basic closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, and warning commuters to remove all valuables from their vehicles.

They are also sending more staff to the hot spots at the right time of day to deter thieves and drive down Auckland's property-crime numbers.

More than 55,000 crimes were reported last year - up from nearly 51,000 in the previous calendar year - and of those, 34,647 offences were breaking and entering, car theft and theft from cars.

That represents 63 per cent of all crime in the police district, a figure which rises to nearly 70 per cent in Auckland's eastern and western suburbs.

Of those property-crime offences, just 721 of 9037 burglaries (8 per cent) and 3119 of 25,610 thefts (12.2 per cent) were resolved.

Police said opportunist thieves and career criminals, who targeted the "high-risk" locations around the city, were largely responsible for the spike by committing 1300 of the extra 4220 offences.

Superintendent Mike Clement, who took over as the Auckland district commander in February, set an immediate goal of reducing property crime by 7 per cent by the end of the year.

He said the Auckland numbers "could not be defended" but believed the district would be on track to achieve his target when new statistics are released next month.

A simple formula of identifying repeat criminals, victims and locations - the crime triangle - means police are sending staff to the right place at the right time.

"We are trying to be one step ahead," Mr Clement said. "Criminals are drawn to the same places and one of our tactics is high visibility. We tell our staff, 'If you go to this location, at this time, you are more likely to prevent or apprehend an offender'.

"If an offender sees a patrol, they leave. They tell us later, 'It's too hot around here'."

Maps of the hot spots in Auckland for burglary, stolen cars or theft from cars have been released to the Herald in a bid to make residents more aware of the risks.

Car parks and streets inside the borders of Queen St, Symonds St, K Rd and Wellesley St East have been identified as favourite targets for thieves in the downtown area.

These include streets around the Auckland University of Technology and the Langham Hotel.

Newmarket is also dotted with hot spots along the shopping strip of Broadway, on streets either side of Khyber Pass Rd, beside the Auckland Domain, underneath the Southern Motorway viaduct - and near the local police station.

A third map reveals the St Lukes Shopping Centre is a repeat crime location for stolen cars and there are a number of high-risk locations in residential streets off New North Rd, Sandringham Rd and Balmoral Rd.

Mr Clement urged car owners to take responsibility and be aware they were potential victims.

"Don't leave attractive items inside your car in full view. If you lock your car and keep anything of value out of sight, the chances of being broken into are greatly diminished.

"Offenders will walk past 100 cars until they find one with a laptop on the front seat."

He also challenged businesses to work harder to prevent crimes, by reducing the opportunities for theft (as simple as changing store layout for retailers), bolstering security and installing CCTV cameras.

"We call it target-hardening," said Mr Clement. "This is not just about the police. We'll get good results if we can deploy staff to target locations, help businesses to become target-hardened and raise awareness among victims."

The third point of the crime triangle is criminals. Mr Clement said a "very small" proportion of offenders were responsible for a "very high" proportion of crime.

"For some of these people, that's their job. Certainly, there are those who, on any day of the week, will be within cooee of a known crime location. And you know they are waiting for an opportunity."

He said police were profiling these career criminals and working with other Government agencies, such as the Corrections Department, to know when they would be released from prison. If we pick off those guys as much as we can, that will have a big effect."

PARKS NO SANCTUARY FROM CAR THIEVES

"They smashed the driver's window and tried to hotwire it by pulling out the ignition. "Nique van SelmNique van Selm drives a modest car and never leaves valuables inside when she parks.

But that didn't stop thieves from trying to steal her Honda Accord, which was left overnight in the car park she leases from Wilson Parking.

"I can understand if I parked the car on the street for the whole weekend, you'd be asking for it," said Ms van Selm.

"But this is a car-parking building. It's like, grrrr."

The Waiheke resident leaves the car in the Wilson building near the corner of Hobson and Wyndham Sts to drive to appointments during working hours. Her husband arrived one morning in August to find shattered glass on the ground.

"They smashed the driver's window and tried to hotwire it by pulling out the ignition. When they couldn't get it started, they've used a hammer or screwdriver to munt the steering column. The entire right-hand side of the steering column has been attacked."

The damage was so severe that Ms van Selm is waiting to find out whether the insurance company will write off the car, which was valued at $2000 to $3000.

Nothing was taken.

She said the police told her commercial car parks were a "major problem" and wondered whether companies like Wilson were doing enough to protect their customers.

"My car park is available to any Tom, Dick and Harry and there's no CCTV cameras that I can see. Wilson [Parking] has all these disclaimers up about theft, but you are paying for parking. And it's not cheap in town.

"My expectation is that if you pay, the least [Wilson] could do is provide some sort of security."

NEW INITIATIVES TO DETER CRIMINALS

Tournament Parking
(Rachel Valentine, operations manager)

We have been working closely with the Auckland police over recent months in response to the steady rise in vehicle crime across the CBD and have been advised that this is a problem affecting all car-park operators across the city.

Up until recently, Tournament has relied on more traditional security measures such as staff patrols at night and CCTV at the more vulnerable car parks. However, it has become clear that these measures are proving an inadequate deterrent to persistent criminals.

New initiatives include issuing trespass orders to unsavoury characters loitering in any of our car parks. We have also put up more signs warning customers not to leave valuables in cars, and improved lighting at open car parks.

We are investing in a trial of new security technology at some car parks. This will enable Tournament to take preventive action in many instances before a crime is committed, rather than resort to unreliable CCTV footage after the event.

Trials are due to be completed in the next month or so with a view to roll-out before the year end.

Wilson Parking
(Steve Evans, chief executive)

We have upgraded and expanded our CCTV camera network to have 250 high-quality digital cameras throughout our car parks, which is expected to increase to 300 monitored cameras in the next 12 months.

Wilson Parking has also upgraded the presentation of several high-profile city car parks over the past 12 months. This included interior painting, improved signage, and increased lighting standards.

Since the upgrades, we have noticed a marked decrease in thefts of and from vehicles in our car parks. As more cameras are deployed and car parks are upgraded we expect further reductions. We also have security patrols throughout high-risk periods.

At several sites we have changed operating conditions to reduce opportunities for antisocial behaviour to spill over into our car parks.

While Wilson is focused on reducing the level of crime against vehicles in our car parks, we note that more crime involving vehicles still occurs to vehicles parked on streets than in commercially operated car parks.

Westfield New Zealand
(Linda Trainer, general manager, shopping centres)

The security management of the St Lukes and 277 Newmarket carparks includes CCTV monitoring, onsite security guards and a security buggy which patrols the carpark areas.

Westfield management has worked closely with the police to share statistics and information relating to both carparks and surrounding neighbourhood areas.

We also work alongside the Newmarket Security company and "intel" share to assist in reducing opportunistic vehicle crime.

In taking a proactive approach with the police, Westfield can report that the number of carpark incidents has decreased. This may be attributed to ongoing education of those using the car park to remind them to lock their vehicles, and an increased security presence in the area.

SECURITY CODE

Report people who are selling suspected stolen property immediately to the police on 111 or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111.

Security features generally associated with reputable and well-established carparks include:

* Good CCTV camera coverage.
* Permanent staff on site.
* Barrier arms.
* Good lighting.
* Open sight lines to public spaces.
* Access points that make it difficult for offenders to enter and leave the carparks unnoticed.

THE SERIES

Today - Auckland City
Tomorrow - Waikato and Bay of Plenty
Wednesday - Waitemata
Thursday - Manukau
Friday - Christchurch

- NZ Herald

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