Hamilton central business owners, who say they want to take the city back, have put their money where their mouths are.
Hamilton Central Business Association is funding two more City Safe officers for eight weeks. The trial, which begins Monday, will enable HCBA to gather information it can use to lobby council to increase City Safe funding. The trial will see the officers patrol the CBD for six hours a day, Monday to Friday. It will cost HCBA about $18,000.
HCBA general manager Sandy Turner said the move wasn't in response to comments from Waikato radio personality Mark Bunting in last week's Hamilton News. Mr Bunting is concerned at antisocial behaviour in Garden Place and the central city.
Mrs Turner said the association had been working on the initiative for some time, but Mr Bunting's comments were perfectly timed with HCBA's announcement.
"If we're telling people town is terrifying and it's a terrible place to be we're doing our business owners a real disservice because people who've never experienced a problem are going to avoid the place,"said Mrs Turner. "While there is a huge amount of truth to what Mark said, I don't want to say it's not there because it is. I listen to my business owners' comments. We are proactively curbing it, we are no longer going to tolerate it and we're going to take our city back. That's how the business community feels.
"CitySafe two-person patrols discourage nuisance behaviour by reporting crime to police. They also report graffiti, lighting problems and property damage.
"Their presence on the street alone acts as a deterrent to unwelcome behaviour.
"It's imperative the city is safe and comfortable for city workers and shoppers. This nuisance activity has to stop," Mrs Turner said.
"Parents also need to make sure they know what their kids are up to during the day. If they're not working or in training where are they? They should not be loitering in the city."
Hamilton City councillor Angela O'Leary is lobbying to bring back the kiosk that was stationed in Garden Place.
She said she would seek sponsorship to reinstate the kiosk and would ask council to fund staff to man it for six months.
"I'm fed up talking about. Let's get on with doing something about it," Ms O'Leary said.
She will organise sponsorship and put a proposal before council within six weeks.
Mayor Julie Hardaker is pushing for a police presence in Garden Place but police aren't sure it's warranted. Ms Hardaker has met Hamilton city area controller Inspector Greg Nicholls and Superintendent Win van der Velde about how a kiosk in Garden Place could be staffed.
She said a kiosk staffed by a police officer, retired officer, volunteer or Maori warden, was "the single biggest initiative that will make a difference" in dealing with antisocial behaviour in Garden Place.
Mr Nicholls isn't sure Garden Place was the right location for a kiosk-type outlet.
"There has been discussion with the mayor around the relationship that presently exists with police who are co-located with City Safe staff in the Transport Centre," said Mr Nicholls.
"That relationship was borne out of disorder issues at the Transport Centre. They work collaboratively policing the CBD and they do a really good job.
From an operational perspective I wouldn't want to see change in the location. From a strategic perspective I've had discussions with Julie Hardaker around a drop-in type office but those discussions are in their infancy.
"The concept was a shared space for messaging around City Safe, possibly wardens, some marketing around Operation SNAP, Crimestoppers, those sorts of things, and being manned by a volunteer.
"My view wasn't a replication of the Transport Centre operation. It was a different function, targeting a different audience."
Mr Nicholls said Mr Bunting's perception was his reality. "The view that I have is that a group of youth dressed in hoodies, for some, is a negative image and those kids who sit outside that training centre ... some may perceive them as loitering and up to no good. In terms of elevation for our response their behaviours in the main don't warrant that. Talking loudly doesn't warrant police intervention usually. But for some that may make them a bit uneasy."
Ms Hardaker said some of the antisocial behaviour in Garden Place wasn't appropriate but work was being done to ensure the area was vibrant and inviting. She said a co-ordinated approach was needed.
"The behaviour of swearing, smoking and synthetic cannabis - no, it's unacceptable. We don't want to see that [in Garden Place]. Young people - we do want to see young people there, absolutely," said Ms Hardaker.
The Smokefree Policy council introduced last year in collaboration with the Cancer Society and Waikato DHB is due for review this month. Garden Place was designated a smokefree zone as part of that. The policy drew criticism from Mr Bunting as people still smoked.
Ms Hardaker said when the review came before a council committee there would be an opportunity to discuss whether a stronger, "more enforcement style of policy" would be appropriate. "The next step of enforcement raises a whole raft of issues about who, how. What do you do? Is it fines? Are you banned? You've got to work through those; I want to understand and see what the outcomes have been with the policy."
Hamilton's Public Places bylaw will also be reviewed this year. Ms Hardaker questioned whether the bylaw needed to "have more meat in it".
"There's been discussion about whether it should be extended to cover other things that you can and can't do in public places. I'm certainly not ruling out some tougher approaches but they have to be on the back of proper research and understanding of the issues and not just making comments without information."
Ms Hardaker said the community needed to be part of the solution.
"In the past people have thought council was responsible for everything. It's not. We all live in the community - we're all part of it. We can set policy frameworks; there are the police who can enforce criminal behaviours.
"It's the business owners, the business association and they're doing great work. And it's about the people in there doing their bit too. Council is showing some really good leadership in this space but they're not the only player.
"We are never going to have a city free of all these issues. People need to accept that. What this is about is how we manage those [issues] with the resources and tools we've got."