Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Burglary exclusive: 164 burglaries a day unsolved

This week the Herald will investigate burglaries across the country in the most in-depth series on the subject ever done in New Zealand. Over five days we will examine where burglaries happen, talk to victims, burglars and the police and find out how you can protect your home and business. In part one we look at which areas are the most burgled and ask why so many crimes are unsolved.

BURGLARY SERIES - OVERVIEW

Burglars got away with an average of 164 burglaries a day in New Zealand last year, exclusive new data shows.

Never-before-released figures obtained as part of a major Herald investigation show police logged 97,707 burglaries in the 18 months after a new recording system was introduced on July 1, 2014.

ARE YOU A VICTIM? OR A BURGLAR? TELL US YOUR BURGLARY STORY

The national burglary resolution rate for 2015 was a record low 9.3 per cent -- the first time it's been in single digits.

READ MORE:
A neighbourhood of victims
Explore burglary patterns in your area
Where burglars get away scot-free

Across New Zealand 59,845 burglaries logged last year went unsolved, with 24 of the country's 300-plus police stations solving none of the burglaries in their jurisdiction.

If the same rate applied to the entire 18-month period since the new recording system was introduced, 88,620 would have gone unsolved.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers noted a 10 per cent fall in reported offences in the five years before the recording system changed.

Mr Chambers said the rates "will only get better".

"The key thing about 9.3 is it will continue to increase...as we continue to work on the burglaries that happened last year."

He said police had put a lot of good work into prevention and achieved good results.

Mr Chambers told Mike Hosking of Newstalk ZB this morning people should get too focused on the current figures.

"In terms of emergency response, last year police responded to 4300 emergency calls for help involving burglaries and on average we took six minutes to get there, that is a pretty good effort and in many of those cases someone was caught on the job or shortly there after.

"The other big part of what we do around it is that investigation effort. Sometimes when we execute search warrants and we find an Aladdin's cave of property we can match back to burglaries and some of those would have happened a long time ago."

But Labour's Phil Goff said that was little consolation to victims.

"If you know you have got more than 90 per cent chance of getting away with it, how is that going to be a disincentive to criminals?

"The crime rate has been coming down but that's not much consolation when your house has been burgled and someone says, 'Your house has been burgled but the good news is fewer other people's houses have been'."

Police Acting Assistant Commissioner, Superintendent Richard Chambers says police have put a lot of effort into preventing burglaries Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police Acting Assistant Commissioner, Superintendent Richard Chambers says police have put a lot of effort into preventing burglaries Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mr Goff told Newstalk ZB's Rachel Smalley this morning a critical factor in the high numbers of unsolved burglaries was that they were low on the list of priorities for police.

"The associated reason with that is that for the last six or seven years the police budget has been at best frozen and sometimes diminished in real terms so the police are looking at other things they say are greater priorities," he said.

Mr Goff said greater priority needed to be given to burglaries but police needed to be better funded in order to do that.

He said preventative measures being taken to stop crimes before they happened were not working.

"These burglars aren't usually kids down the road that are just hungry and breaking in for a feed, these are professional criminals that work with a chain to make sure they can dispose of the goods. You nail one criminal that is a professional criminal and you stop thousands of crimes," he said.

"[Police] have got to get their eye back on the ball on making sure that where there is a crime like a burglary or a car theft.. there is a proper investigation and follow up, there is usually DNA left at the scene."

Mr Goff said there was a lot more that could be done with "the imagination and determination" to do it.

Labour MP Louisa Wall said a key issue in Takanini was transience.

"It is about low home ownership rates, it is about people, for want of a better word, who don't have a stable home," she said.

"In stable communities where everybody knows each other, it is a lot easier to recognise people who are foreign and who actually don't live in the area which makes it easier for communities to be responsive to people who are coming in and burglarising."

Ms Wall said transience was the result of a concentration of poverty in the area.

"If you want to blame anything, it is actually a concentration of poverty.

"We don't have a stable enough community in that area so that the people who are from that area know who live there.

"The problem with a transient community is that you have got people coming in and out of there all the time. It is very hard to have a community response if that is the reality of the community."

Ms Wall said getting the community to work together to tackle the issue was vital.

"When neighbourhoods are landlord [owned], landlords aren't interested in keeping the neighbourhood safe and secure, what you really want is a community response so that the community can support and protect one another. The only way you get that is when people who live in the community have an interest in the community and are engaged in that sort of behaviour."

She said a whole Government approach was needed that begin changing burglary statistics in Takanini.

"We need to look at homeownership rates in the area, we need to look at people who are renting in that area, how can we support them to be long-term tenants which means supporting the school. They are big challenges. We can't just think that the statistics are going to be easy to change."

Takanini Community Church community liaison Garry Schache said the burglary problem in Takanini South stemmed from extensive growth in the area and a proliferation of renters.

"First, in the Addison area in particular, there is a lot of new housing, it is very concentrated and a lot of those end up being rentals. Because it is a new housing area, there is ongoing development and it becomes an easy target for thieves to come into the area.

"Second, the houses that are being lived in are normally rented and often renters don't treat the building as their own. I understand that a lot of people may be careless, and I hear the police talking about a lot of people [who] aren't taking logical safety measures because it is not their home and it is probably a pain to go to the landlord and asking for those sorts of things."

Mr Schache said the problem was exacerbated by a a lack of police funding.

""I know for certain that police are doing their best. Because of the growth in the area and because of the large territory - the largest neighborhood policing territory in the country - the local policing team have to cover, they are pretty stretched but they are doing their best," he said.

"Overall, it has got to come down to funding. If the police were able to put more guys into the area I am sure they would."

He said the Takanini neighbourhood safety panel was planning to hold a barbecue for locals in the area to try to better teach people about appropriate safety measures.

Police Minister Judith Collins said improving resolution rates remained a priority.

Tactics, including targeting burglary hotspots, had been deployed across all 12 police districts, where commanders were "focusing on the issue", she said.

Asked if she thought curbing burglary rates in New Zealand was beyond the current capabilities of police, she said: "No. We all have a part to play in preventing crimes like burglary. For example, by securing our own property, looking out for our neighbours and keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in our communities."

The new system for recording burglaries was introduced, in part, to remove confusion about the multiple ways property crimes were entered in the police national intelligence system.

Click here to see how your neighbourhood compares to the rest of NZ

The number of burglaries under the new definition has increased. After an average of 109 burglaries a day in 2013 and 106 in 2014, the figure for the 18 months to December 31 last year was 178.

At a territorial authority level, Auckland had 34,555 burglaries, followed by Christchurch and Hamilton, which had 8824 and 5232 respectively. Next were Rotorua, Whangarei, Hastings and Wellington.

The new data has enabled the Herald Insights team of data journalists to drill down to neighbourhood level. The three worst-hit are in South Auckland.

The business-dominated area around the Westfield mall in Manukau was heaviest hit, with 75 burglaries in the 18-month period in question.

Another primarily commercial area, in East Tamaki, was second-hardest hit, with 71.

The worst-hit mostly residential area was part of nearby Takanini South with 68.

Police say it's unfair to compare the latest data with previous figures because the new system uses a new definition of what constitutes a burglary.

The victims: "We felt violated"

Sue Braithwaite-Smith's voice wavers as she recalls the day she became a victim.

One morning last year, her husband, Len, got up to make his breakfast before going to work and found their family home in Takanini - less than 2km from the country's most burgled residential neighbourhood - had been ransacked as they slept.

"We were both absolutely devastated," said Mrs Braithwaite-Smith.

"We felt violated more than anything, that someone had invaded our home, our safe place, our castle without us inviting them in."
Sue Braithwaite-Smith

Sitting in the room that was stripped of its portable valuables - laptops, iPads, handbags and heirlooms - she depicts the emotional effect the crime continues to have over her family.

"We went from absolute astonishment and sadness to absolute anger and then it was all the emotion attached to that - we just didn't know how to cope at first.

"It was like a bereavement at first, it was grief."

However, Mrs Braithwaite-Smith said she was blown away by Counties Manukau Police's response.

"They have been absolutely marvellous. I want people to know how much they helped us and everything they did for us was wonderful."

Video

Karl Howett was asleep at home when a noise woke him around 2am. Thinking he was imagining things he went back to sleep until he received a call from police to say his car had been stolen.

When he went downstairs he found his possessions had been taken.

Mr Howett said the experience was unnerving.

"The thought of them coming upstairs was a bit daunting, you know, you don't know what they're going to do to you while you're asleep."

He said prior to the burglary he had been relaxed about security but now ensures everything is locked at all times.

"If you see someone walking past you're always a bit suspicious."

- NZ Herald

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