Editorial: Crack down on burglaries welcome but police will be stretched

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Police officers march down Commercial Rd, Helensville during Rodney district's annual Police Pay Parade. Photo / Martin Sykes
Police officers march down Commercial Rd, Helensville during Rodney district's annual Police Pay Parade. Photo / Martin Sykes

Five months ago the Herald published a revealing series about burglaries in New Zealand. One strong theme which emerged was the rising level of frustration among burglary victims about the police response to the crime.

Statistics showed that burglars got away with an average of 164 crimes a day last year, and that the resolution rate for 2015 was a record low 9.3 per cent. Put another way, nine out of 10 burglaries went unsolved last year. At 24 of New Zealand's police stations not a single burglary was cleared up.

The data was inflated by a new method police adopted to count burglaries, but the overall picture was discouraging: more and more burglars were getting away, and many victims felt that police were not doing enough to catch the criminals.

This week a new approach to combating burglary was confirmed by the politician responsible for the portfolio.

Police Minister Judith Collins said officers would attend all house break-ins "within a reasonable time". This represents a shift in police policy, given that property crimes were previously regarded as "volume crimes" and not required as needing an immediate response.

Police will need to redeploy their resources as officers investigate thousands of break-ins. The Police Association warns that gang and drug crime could flourish as officers get sent to suburban homes, though Collins did say there would be times when police would have to go elsewhere. But she emphasised that "police have assured me" they would crack down on burglaries while trying to catch more burglars.

They will have their work cut out. In the year to June 30, there were 8676 more burglaries, up 13 per cent on the year before. At the same time the police-to-public ratio has been easing. The most recent figures indicate there was one officer per 503 New Zealanders last year, down from one per 488 in 2009.

Collins maintains police have enough resources, with 600 new positions created between 2009 and 2011. She says targeted operations are paying dividends and notes that in this year's budget police got a 2.8 per cent funding increase.

But clearly there have been some behind-the-scenes discussions about the police approach to burglaries, which as our March series showed was fuelling a mounting sense of disillusionment. Acting Deputy Commissioner Allan Boreham indicated as much when he remarked that police had been working on improving the burglary response rate before the minister had spoken to them, and it was "likely we would have ended up in this place anyway".

Collins represents the Papakura electorate. Some of New Zealand's most burgled suburbs are in South Auckland and she would want to demonstrate to her constituents and those living nearby that it is entirely reasonable for homeowners to have expectations that police will prioritise reports of break-ins.

Governments are sensitive to voters feeling uneasy about safety and security and the minister is no shrinking violet when it comes to setting out her views.

"The Commissioner of Police has made his expectations clear," Collins remarked.
So, it would seem, has she.

- NZ Herald

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