Editorial: Priorities askew on burglaries

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Burglaries make up about 15 per cent of reported crime. Photo / Getty Images
Burglaries make up about 15 per cent of reported crime. Photo / Getty Images

The Herald's startling burglary series this week has revealed that nearly every homeowner has a story about the crime. If they haven't been burgled themselves, it is more than likely that they know someone who has, and often more than once.

The Prime Minister, responding to the revelation that burglars got away on average with a staggering 164 crimes a day, had several episodes to recount. Mr Key even once confronted an intruder in his own home. And while police turned up swiftly after that disturbing experience, the prowler was not caught.

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Many people who responded to our reports complained that the criminals who entered their homes, smashed their way into their cars or forced open doors of their workplaces never seemed to be apprehended.

This raises a challenge for the police, who maintain that resolving burglaries is a priority. This is not the impression held by a significant number of the burglary victims who reported their experiences and who questioned whether police were devoting sufficient resources to catching the criminals.

There will, of course, always be choices in the carve-up of the crime-fighting budget. The findings of our series raise legitimate arguments whether the allocation of police resources is appropriate, given the number of burglaries going unresolved.

Police made the point that the definition of burglary had altered so that many minor offences - the example of a basketball going missing from a lawn was offered - now were included in burglary statistics.

That may be so but the insistent message from burglary victims reacting to our coverage and the impact of offending makes it clear that families whose homes have been burgled often are left feeling helpless, violated and fearful.

It is likely many New Zealanders share this unease, because burglary is big business, both in the scale of offending and cost on the community.

Burglaries make up about 15 per cent of reported crime. The last Treasury estimate, in 2005, of the annual cost to the state of burglaries was $626 million.

Insurance firms pay out a similar amount each year in claims. One criminologist argued the way to reduce burglary was to discourage New Zealanders becoming burglars in the first place, which is laudable but unlikely.

The Minister of Police believes individuals have to play their part by securing their property. Many do of course, but still get burgled. Resisting the temptation to buy goods at "hot" prices would also be a deterrent because burglars do not steal appliances and other goods to keep.

There is another measure which many want to see. In the published 38-page briefing police gave their minister after the last election, the word "burglary" does not appear, though the police declared in the document that victims were "at the centre of our response".

The findings of our series - that nearly 60,000 burglaries went unsolved in New Zealand last year and that in 24 police districts not a single incident was resolved - suggests it is high time the police revised their priorities.

- NZ Herald

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