The residents of two Kaitaia homes might not have expected lights and sirens, but they did expect to see at least one police officer in the early hours of Tuesday morning as their neighbouring church was being vandalised.

They had a long wait - the first one turned up more than 12 hours later. That angered the neighbours and appalled Kaitaia Baptist Church elder Vince Mason, who finally gave up waiting for someone to arrive to the Grigg St church.

Inspector Barry Smalley, operations manager at North Comms in Auckland, said the lack of response was the result of a technical problem there, and no fault of the Kaitaia police. He understood that officers were present at the Kaitaia station at the time, but oblivious to what was happening. He believed the initial call had been answered in Christchurch.

The incident began around midnight. Three girls were arguing, fighting and "carrying on" at the rear of the church, one of them finally kicking the lower glass panels out of the back door. They then entered the church, although the only damage done inside was to a table. They left via the front door, which was not damaged.

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The neighbour said his wife called 111, and spent about 20 minutes talking to someone they supposed was at a police communications centre. She was told that Kaitaia was an unmanned station. The couple turned their outdoor lights on but that did not deter the offenders.

Another neighbour said he too phoned 111. He was in conversation with whoever it was who answered his call for about five minutes. The incident, he added, had gone on for the best part of an hour.

Mr Mason conceded that the outcome could have been worse, but it was bad enough. Nothing appeared to have been stolen but broken glass was strewn all over the floor. An officer finally arrived a little before 1pm on Wednesday. "We need a better service from the police than this," Mr Mason said.

"There's a woman next door who doesn't feel safe in her own home any more."

He phoned the police himself at 8.30am. He did not know where his call was answered, but said he spent half an hour answering questions so an incident report could be compiled. He was told that "someone" would be sent to the church, but by 10am he had had enough.

"I can't hang around here any more," he said. "I've got a business to run."

Inspector Smalley said a debriefing was being conducted to establish where improvements could be made. He had telephoned Mr Mason and the immediate neighbour to apologise for the failure of police to attend. He said callers should not be told that the Kaitaia police station was unmanned at night.