Hundreds of wanted on the run


More than 250 wanted Manawatu and Wairarapa suspects are evading police, dozens of whom face serious violence, sexual offending or dishonesty charges.

Ministry of Justice figures released under the Official Information Act showed 272 defendants were wanted on active warrants in the Manawatu and Wairarapa areas as of June 30.

The data was based on outstanding arrest warrants issued since 2004. It showed 26 people were wanted for committing violent acts, one for crimes relating to sexual assaults, and 48 for theft and related offences.

Four warrants for Manawatu and Wairarapa suspects have been outstanding for at least nine years.

The most common offences were against justice procedures such as breaching bail, 73; traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, 55; and theft and dishonesty offences, 48.

Wairarapa police area commander Inspector Brent Register said the local prevention manager reviewed the list of outstanding warrants daily and prioritised into it into three categories of importance: "We prioritise the highest ones first and they'll be assigned there and then to an officer to go and locate the person."

Lower-level warrants were typically for people who had not turned up at court for a legitimate reason, such as traffic fine notices delivered to an old address, resulting in a warrant.

"They could have a fines warrant they might know nothing about," Mr Register said.

Welfare reform introduced by Social Development Minster Paula Bennett on July 15 meant welfare recipients who failed to clear outstanding arrest warrants within 38 days could have their benefits stopped, or halved if they had children.

About 8000 beneficiaries have arrest warrants outstanding nationally for issues such as unpaid fines.

Mr Register said it was too early to tell if the reforms had resulted in a surge of beneficiaries clearing clear warrants.

Social media played a part in locating criminals: "If we can't find somebody, we would then put them on our Facebook page.

"Normally, there's a reason why the person hasn't gone to court and we track them down two, three or four days later," he said. "It's very rare for us to have someone outstanding for a month or two months."

A judge issues a warrant when someone accused of a crime fails to appear in court or breaches bail conditions. It may also be issued for someone suspected of a crime but still at large.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said finding criminals with outstanding warrants was costing taxpayers and wasting police resources: "And it's taking the police away from their main focus in catching criminals and reducing crime."

Ministry of Justice district courts general manager Tony Fisher said reasons an arrest warrant could remain outstanding for a long period included a defendant living abroad, in which case the warrant would stay on record.

As well, a defendant may be dead or be using an alias to avoid detection.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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