Usually when politicians start bleating on about crime it's not because it's on the increase but because there are other more important things going on that they want to divert the public's attention from.

Such as the parlous state of dairy farming coupled with increasing fresh water scarcity and pollution; or burgeoning government debt when there's a distinct possibility of another, larger, global financial collapse.

But those things are complex and poorly understood by politicians and public alike, so the less said the better.

Mention them to our so-called leaders and you'll get either blank stares or shrugs and some terse refrain about the market correcting itself.


In short, tacitly admitting they don't have a clue how to tackle the issue.

Crime, on the other hand, is a perennial favourite for the polies to mouth about because it immediately garners column inches and soundbytes galore. Almost everyone (except the criminals) agrees crime is bad, so as a distraction it's an easy-do.

It's no coincidence that the "Oh look, flag!" campaign - that has helped minimise protest against the TPPA and National's performance in general for the past two years - has no sooner reached its use-by referendum date than crime is next hot topic.

First Prime Minister John Key recalls confronting a burglar - who took to his heels so fast at John's high-pitched squeals he was never caught - then our tarnished but inexplicably reinstated Police Minister Judith "Crusher" Collins worries about resolution rates for burglary.

Well, fair enough; 12.1 per cent of cases solved in the 2014 year is a woeful statistic, and the rate for theft in general (including vehicles) is barely better at 21.7 per cent.

But like most types of criminal activity, burglaries have decreased since 2000 (by 27.5 per cent) despite property theft that has always been low priority for a police force struggling to deal with more urgent crimes amid falling budgets and closing stations.

Property falls off the police truck because it consumes an inordinate amount of time, both investigative and clerical. Besides, there's a little thing called insurance - something you can't get for murder or rape or a bad drug habit.

I don't mean to diminish the impact of being burgled, but it strikes me that the ones who protest loudest about property crime are those who can afford nice things to steal. Whereas those most affected are the poor, because it's often their neighbours who steal from them, and they can't afford insurance premiums.

Indeed I wonder what slice of that 12.1 per cent of solved burglaries correlates with victims who knew how to kick up a fuss. I'd bet it was most of them.

Hastings District councillor Henare O'Keefe is right to complain that Flaxmere is suffering a lack of police presence. The official police response noted that while the community constable role has disappeared and the six-man station is not open during the day, people could still phone the station to talk to an officer - which speaks volumes about the true state of "community policing".

Bottom line: Police can't solve (let alone prevent) more crime if they are being taken off the street and given less funding, year on year.

O'Keefe's call for Hastings' "City Assist" programme to be expanded - putting more "ambassadors" on the street to help guide tourists but also defuse troublemaking - may be a valid response, but it's the thin edge of the privatisation wedge.

Unfortunately, it fits the formula: tighten funding, run things down, then turn to a friendly corporate rent-a-cop to save the day. That's the neo-liberal way to make sure crime pays.

- Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.