Teenagers who would have once rebelled by tagging or fighting are now committing aggravated robberies as part of a new "sub-culture", Police Minister Paula Bennett says.

Bennett fronted a parliamentary committee today along with Police Commissioner Mike Bush, where Labour's Police spokesman Stuart Nash questioned whether a new fund to help dairy owners improve security was an admission of failure.

Some dairy owners have been involved in community protests after a spate of violent aggravated robberies around the country, with offenders often wanting cash and tobacco.

Police Minister Paula Bennett and Police Commissioner Mike Bush appear before a select committee today. Photo Nicholas Jones.
Police Minister Paula Bennett and Police Commissioner Mike Bush appear before a select committee today. Photo Nicholas Jones.

Bennett said that in the past 12 months there had been an increase in such crime. There was no one reason for the spike, she said, but 44 per cent of offenders were 17 years or younger.

Advertisement

"There is something in the notoriety now of it. Whereas they used to go out and graffiti and kind of beat each other up, it seems to be the thing right now that you walk into a store with a baseball bat," Bennett told the committee.

"Police have been doing a whole lot of prevention work...but I make no apologies for actually helping these dairies become target-hardened. They needed something on top of this that actually breaks what is becoming the thing to do - the subculture is to go and do these robberies.

"Police have done an outstanding job in apprehensions, but it's almost the notoriety to be on Facebook or make it on to TV that night in a CCTV picture."

Bush said most offenders came from troubled backgrounds that included family violence. Bennett said she asked police to look into the backgrounds of four teenage girls who recently robbed a dairy.

Three had no previous police record and came from good families who were horrified by the crime, Bennett said. But the "ring leader" had a "horrific" past, including family violence and mental health issues.

"These girls had almost - I don't want to underplay it - but got caught in the hype, and had a very strong leader, and they aren't planned these aggravated robberies, they are almost out looking for something to do, and it has become almost a sub-culture to go and do them. It's hard to comprehend."

Nash said he appreciated the efforts of police, but noted resolution rates for property crime and crime against a person had not improved in the past three years.

Budget 2017 includes a $503 million package to boost police officer numbers by 880 over four years, which was announced by Prime Minister Bill English in February.

Advertisement

Nash said he was concerned that Police had put forward an initial document that asked for a greater increase.

"You have given them 285 officers less and $160m less than they asked for, in order to keep us safe...we are talking about police where there were 11,000 more victimisations last year than there were the year before, who are operating in a different world where mental health is coming to the fore, where P is out of control."

Bennett said she was very comfortable with the analysis that settled on the increase in numbers, and that it would help keep New Zealanders safe.

"I'm yet to meet an organisation that doesn't stretch what they want and tell you they can do a lot more with more if you give it to them."

Last week Bennett announced $1.8m would be made available for robbery prevention at dairies, superettes and small local businesses. Police will help to decide the best prevention methods to be used. She estimated the cost would be around $3000 per dairy, of which police will pay half.

Campaign against "evil" of methamphetamine on the way

The Police Minister also indicated a new public campaign warning people against methamphetamine use will be rolled out.

"We need to look more at a campaign that lets young people in particular know the evils of this drug. And I'm not sure they still do know the evils of this. So that's something we are currently talking about," Bennett told the parliamentary committee.

Shortly after being elected, former Prime Minister John Key in 2009 launched a plan to drastically cut meth use. Last month Bennett denied Key's plan had failed, saying levels of meth use in New Zealand could be worse had it not been implemented.

Last October outgoing Police Association president Greg O'Connor - now a Labour candidate - warned of a "second wave" of meth, and told his association's annual conference that in some parts of the country meth was cheaper than marijuana.