Two-thirds of Kiwis are more concerned about being a victim of crime today than they were five years ago and harsher prison sentences and more police would make them feel safer, a new Weekend Herald poll reveals.
Experts say addressing crime requires society-wide solutions and our sense of safety has been affected by the visibility of crimes in the media and social media.
As part of the editorial series, The New New Zealand: Rebuilding Better, the Herald is looking at the state of crime in our country and the solutions available to address it.
A poll conducted for the Herald by Dynata from May 25-29 asked 1000 respondents if they were more or less concerned about being the victim of a crime today than five years ago.
Sixty-seven per cent were more concerned, 28 per cent felt about the same and 5 per cent were less concerned. Concern in Auckland was higher than the national average.
Survey respondents were asked which single measure, from a list of seven, was most important to improving their safety. The options included punitive measures - such as harsher prison sentences - as well as increasing wellbeing support services.
The most common answers were harsher prison sentences (34 per cent) and more police (27 per cent).
Sentencing and more police aren’t sure remedies
Dr John Buttle, senior lecturer at AUT’s School of Social Sciences and Public Policy, said while harsher prison sentences and higher police numbers may make people feel safer, they did not result in a lower crime rate.
He said prison tended to make people feel disconnected from society, while more police often meant the crime rate increased as officers had more capacity to arrest people.
“The cure is a larger societal matter than it is just policing. The police and criminal justice system is what we go for when things go wrong, we need to deal with the things before they go wrong.”
Stories of crime were now more accessible to people with social media and the internet. He said there would be a part of the population who would never come into contact with crime until they saw it in the news, which was now largely online.
Crime has dominated the headlines this year, particularly the coverage of brazen smash-and-grab style “ram raids” that devastate retailers. They are often committed by young people who later share their exploits on social media channels.
However, the crimes that dominate headlines or social media feeds are not necessarily the same as those that dominate statistics.
For example, the 116 ram raids committed in August last year, the worst month for such offences, were just 0.36 per cent of the 31,975 crimes reported that month, despite the financial impacts and in some cases physical harm the raids have caused.
An Auckland dairy owner, who had recently lost her husband, almost had heart failure when she learnt her store had been ram raided for the sixth time. She told the Herald at the time she was shaking and struggled to speak to police. The owner of a Pukekohe liquor store said his shop had been been hit more than 15 times, and he has been stabbed and held at gunpoint.
Meanwhile, the owner of a West Auckland petrol station that has also been ram raided multiple times, said the incident had left them “shattered” and felt New Zealand was no longer a safe place to live. Two cars were involved and cigarettes and vapes were among the items taken.
“It is not worth doing business here. Especially for small retailers like me, it is hard to survive,” he told the Herald.
Of those surveyed, 14 per cent of respondents felt more mental health and addiction support was the most important thing to improve their safety.
Far fewer respondents said the most important thing to improve their safety was more focus on rehabilitation rather than prison (6 per cent), more social workers and other support (4 per cent), making alcohol harder to access (4 per cent) and stopping school truancy (4 per cent).
Reported crime has been steadily increasing while convictions and charges have fallen, a Herald analysis has shown.
It found reported victims of crime had increased 11.9 per cent between 2017 and 2022, while the number of people convicted and offenders arrested had decreased by 26.2 per cent and 25.4 per cent respectively.
However, the numbers are complicated by a number of factors, including multiple different recording practices and historic under-reporting.
Auckland-based community advocate Dave Letele said to truly address crime, New Zealand needed to focus on big social issues, such as housing, income equity and education, as well as the intergenerational effects of colonialism – and the loss of assets – on Māori.
“Prison and tough punishment are simply and demonstrably not solutions. Prison is the biggest gang recruitment facility in the world.”
He said some fears around crime were driven by media reporting and social media.
“There is not enough voices calling for calm and being sensible. We are in danger of escalating the fear and the violence.”
Victims advocate Ruth Money told the Herald crime should never be downplayed.
“If you ignore these people who are being harmed, you’re disempowering them. It is a healthy conversation to have until it becomes a political football.
“It doesn’t make great news for the current Government but at the end of the day, it is what people are experiencing.”