The man who desecrated dozens of children's graves at a South Auckland cemetery was caught on CCTV footage, police say.
Inspector Mark Rowbottom said the man spent about three hours in the cemetery, tampering with numerous memorials about 8.30pm on Saturday.
"We believe that there is a lone person responsible for the damage, and he is seen on CCTV exhibiting some strange behaviour.
"At various times through the night, cars have driven past the man and he has made no attempt to hide from vehicle headlights," Mr Rowbottom said.
"Police will now be conducting inquiries in an attempt to identify this man. Police staff will also be increasing patrols in the area around and within the cemetery."
Auckland Council has meanwhile denied its workers were responsible for what it described as an "appalling act of vandalism".
Auckland Council cemeteries manager Catherine Moore said staff discovered the damage on Sunday.
Ms Moore said the council's first priority was to get in contact with and support the families involved.
"We are in the process of contacting those we have information about, but also ask families concerned to contact the council's call centre ... with their details and we will be in touch."
About three or four sections of the cemetery were damaged, including adornments being thrown around and damage to headstones. Most of the damaged graves were of children and stillborn babies.
Mr Rowbottom said the discovery of the damage was devastating to families.
"It's a heartbreaking discovery and we are working with the council to do what we can to support these families at this time."
The desecration comes after adornments at 174 infant graves at West Auckland's Waikumete Cemetery were bulldozed and thrown out by council staff during maintenance in 2013.
Despite the reassurances of authorities, some parents are blaming the council for the destruction at Papakura Cemetery.
A Papakura resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said people had been told on January 28 to make their gravesites compliant because the council would be doing a clean-up.
"And then this is what happens."
She said a friend had taken photos of the scene yesterday, before the council found the damage, and "everything had been put into piles".
"Everything non-compliant was in one pile and all organic waste such as bushed and scrub were in another pile," she said.
"And some of the heavy headstones which were handmade have been taken away."
She said affected families had taken the news very hard and many were grieving. The mother of a young child buried at the cemetery, Vicki Bates, took photos of the scene before the council allegedly discovered the damage.
"We found it yesterday when we were driving past. I looked across the cemetery because I always look and saw the hedges from her site were gone so I turned around and came back.
"Everything was just cleared out into two main piles. One looked liked sort of inorganic type rubbish and the other was foliage. For it to be separated is unusual."
Auckland Council deputy manager of southern cemeteries Noelene Mudgway said the council was unsure how many families were affected by incident.
"You would be looking at 30 to 40 graves that have been targeted but there are other two other areas that have been targeted," she said.
"The children's section has been targeted and there are some small headstones which have been targeted and a few adult graves as well."
Concerned families can contact the council's call centre on (09) 301 0101.