Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Blue line thin on theft

It's a great idea to have cops attend every burglary, but where are they to come from? Photo / Getty Images
It's a great idea to have cops attend every burglary, but where are they to come from? Photo / Getty Images

It's awful arriving home to find your place has been burgled. The sense of violation is devastating, especially when the intruders have taken the time to trash the place before leaving with your property.

It's infuriating that what took you years to save for or pay off will be sold in minutes by the burglars for a fraction of its value.

It can take months, if not years, before you feel secure again and children can be particularly badly affected.

So yes, it's a great idea to direct police officers to attend every burglary.

This week it was announced burglaries will become a "priority offence" - previously they were considered a "volume crime" and not classified as needing an immediate response.

However after a Herald campaign ran earlier in the year highlighting the number of burglaries every day and how few had been resolved, the Government instructed police chiefs they should prioritise their response to burglaries.

After all, homeowners are voters.

And when close to 100,000 of them have been burgled in the past 18 months with less than 10 per cent of the crimes being solved, it has to be a good thing for the Government to be seen to be acting decisively to protect these voters and their castles.

And there's no doubt crackdowns work.

After burglary rates in the Waikato rose to more than a 1000 in 2015, police launched a major operation that saw more than 200 burglars arrested in from May to July this year. The numbers of burglaries are falling.

When police collar a burglar, they're generally picking up a criminal who has done it before and has committed plenty of other crimes. Very few arrested are debutantes.

In the Waikato, most of those arrested were prolific offenders and it's not uncommon to find burglars who have more than 100 previous convictions as well as a host of convictions for other crimes. Most of them, when appearing in court, are unrepentant and see any prison sentence imposed as an occupational hazard. And when they're let out, as inevitably they must be, they go back to what they know best.

There's also no doubt targeting burglaries is a good thing for neighbourhoods.

If people see police officers and cars in their street, it gives them a sense of security.

And it's a learning opportunity for police officers, especially the less experienced ones, to see the impact crime has on everyday victims.

So yes. Cleaning up New Zealand of opportunistic, brazen little oiks is a jolly good thing.
But - and it's a big but, something has to give.

We have a limited number of police, our population is increasing, and criminals are becoming more sophisticated. Our police officers end up playing a large number of roles on top of their day job: social workers, mental health workers, counsellors, truancy officers.

The police workplace survey released this week showed more than half of police officers feel the level of work-related stress they experience in their jobs is unacceptable, so you'd have to be concerned about the extra pressure they will be under to respond to a political directive.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor says a lack of staff is the crux of the matter and even the Government acknowledges there's a shortage.

If the Government wants the police to make them look good, they are utterly bound to give the police the staff and the resources needed to do the job.

Otherwise, burglary rates will go down but crime in other areas will go up - and it will merely have been an exercise in robbing Peter to pay Paul.

• Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays, noon-4pm

- Herald on Sunday

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