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.

You can get there via Auckland's Southern Motorway.

Exit 453 onto Great South Rd, left onto Manuroa and right at the first roundabout.

Pass the unprepossessing hodgepodge of single-storey homes that marked the border of town and country before the city burst its boundaries.

Enter a different environment. Clean, bright subdivisions, streets named 'parkways', a duckpond.

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

"Around Christmas time you've got to be pretty careful where you put presents, they don't buy them but they know where to get them from."

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Helen Woods: "At least once a week someone comes through my property to see if it's open. I'm very careful about locking everything. Even going to the toilet downstairs you have to lock all your doors because what they do is they rush in and grab stuff and rush out. We never leave the balcony door open [upstairs] even if we're asleep."

These people live in the same "meshblock", the smallest geographic unit by which government agencies aggregate data.

Police recorded 68 burglaries in that predominantly residential area in the 18 months to December 31 last year, fewer than four a month. If that doesn't sound high, consider that most meshblocks contain only 100-120 houses. That suggests around half the homes in that part of Takanini South were burgled over that period.

But while 68 might be the highest number of burglaries for a primarily residential meshblock, it's not by much. All over New Zealand there are similar figures for comparable urban areas. This is not just a Takanini South problem.

59,845 unsolved burglaries

Police changed the way they recorded burglaries on July 1, 2014. They wanted to track trends more easily and remove confusion about the multiple ways property crimes were recorded.

The definition changed to include some offences previously logged as theft or other property crimes. As Inspector Dave Glossop -- whose patch includes Takanini South -- points out, basketballs taken from a lawn are now classed as burglaries.

Figures released exclusively to the Herald show that in the 18 months after the change, police logged 97,707 burglaries at residential and commercial properties nationwide.

The national resolution rate for 2015 dropped into single figures for the first time -- 9.3 per cent. Across New Zealand 59,845 burglaries logged last year went unsolved, an average of 164 a day.

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

Police have long insisted that resolving burglaries -- crimes characterised not only by the financial impact of losing sometimes irreplaceable property but also by the violation of home security -- is a priority.

Commissioner Mike Bush told a Parliamentary Select Committee resolution rates are a focus for police. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Commissioner Mike Bush told a Parliamentary Select Committee resolution rates are a focus for police. Photo / Sarah Ivey

In February Commissioner Mike Bush told a Parliamentary Select Committee: "Resolution rates are a focus for us. We are focused on turning those around. It's a focus for every police district commander in every one of our 12 police districts."

New Zealand's burglary record appears poor when compared internationally. The latest comparative United Nations data available -- from 2012 -- shows 1187 burglaries per 100,000 Kiwis. That's against 969 per 100,000 Australians and 813 per 100,000 people in England and Wales.

Overall, crime in New Zealand has been declining steadily, with a 17 per cent drop since 2011.

After a 10 per cent drop in burglaries in the five years to the end of June 2014, the number of burglaries under the new definition has increased.

The new figures put it at 178 a day, up from 109 in 2013 and 106 the year after.

At that February select committee meeting, MP Phil Goff tackled Mr Bush about the resolution rate.

"... If you are a crook you get a 90 per cent chance of getting away with it ... Last year [former police minister Michael Woodhouse] was here and he said to you, 'I need an improvement'."

Mr Bush told the committee that police in all districts were focused on improving resolution rates, but it was important to note the number of break-ins was falling.

"The first priority is that burglaries reduce. And if you look at dwelling burglaries -- where someone does actually break into your house -- the number of those burglaries continues to decrease. But we would like to resolve more of those burglaries."

This week Mr Goff told the Herald he had asked the Commissioner several times for specific examples of how police planned to improve resolution rates but they had not been provided.

"We have got to make the costs of burglary higher than the rewards that they get for being able to do it in the first place."

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Mr Goff told Newstalk ZB's Rachel Smalley this morning that 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.

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."

Acting Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers, who spoke to the Herald on behalf of police for this story, said burglary was considered a serious crime.

"Police continue to work hard to prevent, respond, investigate and resolve burglaries. Police have had a particular focus on preventing crime, and as an organisation we are proud that the number of burglary victims have reduced over the last five years."

The streets of Takanini South, the most burgled neighbourhood in New Zealand. Photo / Chris Reed
The streets of Takanini South, the most burgled neighbourhood in New Zealand. Photo / Chris Reed

Mr Chambers told Mike Hosking of Newstalk ZB this morning the burglaries resolution rate would improve as cases were cleared.

"We don't resolve all burglaries straight away so the investigation effort that does go in will take effect over time so that will only improve with the work that is going on around the country."

He estimated the resolution rate would potentially rise to around 12 per cent.

Mr Chambers said he didn't think people should get too focused on the current figures because there was a lot of good work by police going on.

"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."

Police Minister Judith Collins said: "Improving resolution rates is a priority for police and I'm advised that the Commissioner has tasked his 12 district commanders with focusing on the issue including targeting burglary hotspots."

The president of the police union, Greg O'Connor, said the new data showed officers were focused on prevention, rather than response.

But University of Canterbury criminologist Jarrod Gilbert suggested there was a difference between how police and victims viewed burglaries.

"Because the police have limited resources, all their jobs have to be prioritised but sometimes I am not sure they get that right.

"Things like burglaries are low priority but in the minds of the public it would be seen as a greater priority."

Police "running on empty"

Inspector Dave Glossop has had his share of tough assignments. A few years back he spent time in Afghanistan training members of their police force.

Now he works in Counties Manukau, the region which contains Takanini South. His patch also includes the hardest-hit commercially-dominated meshblock, in Manukau City. Burglary is a national problem, but his police district has stiffer challenges than most.

Mr Glossop said police had difficulties responding to the large number of calls about burglaries and had to prioritise.

The response was faster if a burglar was still at the scene or there was a threat to life or property.

If a scene had been disturbed, or a family got home to find they had been burgled while they were away, it was going to be slower.

"We will certainly prioritise the investigation effort ... to the ones where the victimisation level is higher.

"The resolution rates are across the whole sphere of what is considered a burglary [under the new definition], and the public wouldn't expect the police to be putting a lot of resources into the 'basketball-that's-been-taken-off-the-lawn' scenario, which is technically a burglary, compared to a house that has been broken into and everybody's property has been taken.

"Even though technically for statistics they are both burglaries, one is going to have a substantial impact on our victims who we're working for and the basketball that's been taken won't get the same level of service."

After five years unchanged, the police budget was reduced last year by 1 per cent, to $1.609 billion.

Green Party criminal justice spokesman David Clendon is among those questioning the availability of resources.

"To give the police credit, I think they have responded very positively and found incredible efficiencies in the way they have done things, but beyond a certain point you can no longer squeeze any more juice out of the orange -- they are now running on empty.

"Burglary is a crime that hurts people and hurts communities but police have to prioritise going to the assaults and violence, and that is defensible."

Constable Vaughan Perry dusting for finger prints following a burglary. Photo / Peter Meecham
Constable Vaughan Perry dusting for finger prints following a burglary. Photo / Peter Meecham

Between 2009 and 2012 police in Counties Manukau "recoded" hundreds of burglaries to more minor crimes.

Five staff, including then-area commander Gary Hill, were sanctioned, and then-Police Minister Anne Tolley had to reassure the public it was an isolated incident.

Mrs Collins told the Herald that incident was a one-off and denied a lack of funding was behind the fall in resolution rates.

She said there was a large element of personal responsibility in protecting property through security measures.

And while most break-ins were relatively quick, without witnesses and resulted in little evidence, the effort required to investigate and convict a culprit was extensive, she said.

Burglaries account for about 15 per cent of crime dealt with by New Zealand Police.

A 2005 Treasury report estimated they cost the state more than $626 million a year. The report has not been updated.

The current financial cost to victims is also hard to estimate but Insurance company IAG, which has about half the New Zealand market, said burglaries account for 12 per cent of total home insurance claims paid to victims each year.

Mr Gilbert said a myriad of factors contributed to the crime, including desperation, opportunity and pockets of society where crime is acceptable. The key to preventing burglaries was to prevent people becoming burglars.

If he's right, that's far from a quick fix. And that will be little comfort to the folk of Takanini South and the other neighbourhoods like it where the burglary problem is too close to home.

- additional reporting, Simon Collins, Ben Hill and Chris Reed