Some 92 abductions of people up to the age of 19 were recorded by police during the past year, but top cop Eric Tibbott tells the Herald it's still extremely rare a child will be taken by a stranger in New Zealand.

An abnormal increase in reported suspicious approaches to children near schools saw him asking parents to stay vigilant about their children's safety today.

However, parents are also being assured abductions are still "extremely rare".

Superintendent Tibbott, the national prevention manager, welcomed people reporting what they believed to be suspicious, but said not all incidents had a sinister motive.

"What we are seeing though, over the last few months, is an increase in suspicious approaches to children and we can't pinpoint the cause of this increase.

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"Although, historically as we see increased publicity we see an increase in reporting," he said.

While it was possible suspicious approaches had been under-reported in the past, he said people may now be more aware or noticing "there is something that is not quite right in this environment".

"We encourage people to report them, it's far better for police to spend some time and investigate something and find out it was just something like a miscommunication or breakdown, than someone not reporting it and we find there is someone specifically targeting children."

In the 12 months to January 31, police statistics show there were 92 abductions of people aged between 0 and 19. However, of the 92, only 6 resulted in the offender being unknown to the victim.

"This is where we're trying to unpick the issue of custody related or custodial related [incidents] against this suspicious approach or somebody with an ulterior motive," Tibbott said.

He said the number of abductions were on par with previous years.

Tibbott said an emphasis on potential abuse or abductions by people unknown to them, historically referred to as "stranger danger", was outdated and a potentially dangerous concept which police have steered away from since the late 1980s.

The now used Keeping Ourselves Safe programme for schools focused on a behaviour-based rather than person-based approach, he added.

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He also applauded the actions of those children who had been the victim of a suspicious approach in the past few months, particularly a young boy in Upper Hutt.

Last Monday, a 10-year-old boy was approached by a man in a black car in front of Upper Hutt College.

The man told the boy, "I need to take you home" - but the youngster asked the man for a password his mum had given him - when the man didn't know the answer, the boy ran home.

"That was a good example of how providing young people with education is helping to keep themselves safe," Tibbott said.

"I'm really impressed with how we're seeing our young people looking after themselves."

He said police were working at a national level with the Ministry of Education to help ensure child safety, while local police have been conducting "high profile patrols" in areas which have seen suspicious approaches.

Tibbott encouraged parents and children to have a plan in place when travelling to and from school, and to continue to report any suspicious behaviour to the school or police.

Recent suspicious approaches

April 10:

A 9-year-old schoolgirl who was offered $100 by a stranger to enter their car near St Dominic's School in Blockhouse Bay. The student immediately ran off and told a teacher.

April 6: A female student from North Shore's Birkdale Intermediate School was offered a lift by man in a white van.

April 3: A 10-year-old boy was approached by a man in a black car in front of Upper Hutt College. The boy asked the man for the password, which the man didn't know, before running home.

March 29: A man with a dragon tattoo on his face tried to grab 14-year-old boy in Beach Haven on the North Shore and put him in his car.

March 9: A suspicious white van driven by a man parked near Birkdale Primary School on the North Shore.

March 7: A man in a white van approached an 11-year-old girl near Northcote Intermediate School on the North Shore.

February 28: A man tried to grab an 11-year-old girl on her way to St Heliers School, in Auckland.

Advice for parents and caregivers

• Teach your child how to get safely to and from school and other places they go - whether they walk, bike or go by bus.

• Make clear rules about getting home.

• Go to school with your child so that you can show them the safest route.

• Teach them to deal with hazards like narrow footpaths or busy roads.

• Meet the parents of children in your area and keep in touch.

• Teach the children to walk home together in twos or small groups, not alone.

• Make other arrangements if someone is away.

• Anyone who has an immediate concern for their safety should not hesitate to call 111.