He started off committing low-level crimes like wagging school and shoplifting.

But by age 15, Morrocco Mal Tai was well-known to police. He was robbing dairies, stealing cars and fleeing police - and wasn't ashamed about sharing his exploits on social media.

A police officer who dealt with him numerous times, described him as "the epitome of a Counties Manukau youth".

"He is one of many we are dealing with and these guys just think it is funny to get involved and to do crime. They brag about it and put it on Facebook.

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"These guys are hardcore and if things carry on as they are, it is only a matter of time before they progress to grievous bodily harm and homicide charges."

Morrocco's death on Monday morning, while evading police in a stolen vehicle, adds to a growing list of major crimes committed by youth in New Zealand. It highlights questions around why a percentage of the country's youngest population are spiralling into anarchy and what is being done in order to decrease such offending.

Police reporter Meghan Lawrence spoke to police, a judge and the ministry dedicated to supporting children in New Zealand about what can be done to try and turn these youths' lives around.

In state care

Tai, pictured in the front row, second from the left, aged 11. Photo / Facebook
Tai, pictured in the front row, second from the left, aged 11. Photo / Facebook

Morrocco was born on August 7, 2002, at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland to Jo-Ann Stevens and Andrew Tai, according to his birth certificate.

This week, his family gathered at a Housing New Zealand home in Otara where his body lay. His mother, who sat in a car outside the property, said she didn't want to speak to the Herald.

At some point, he was put in the care of the Ministry of Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki, formerly known as Child, Youth and Family.

When he was 11, he lived in Whangarei with his sister and joined the junior rugby team at the Horahora Club.

His former coach, Cori Paul, this week said he'd showed promise.

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Morrocco Tai posted this photo on Facebook outside Middlemore Hospital after he was hospitalised for dog bites following. Photo / Facebook
Morrocco Tai posted this photo on Facebook outside Middlemore Hospital after he was hospitalised for dog bites following. Photo / Facebook

"Although he was with us for a short time Morocco was a rugged, hearty player with no fear. All thoughts to his whanau."

Morrocco ended up back in Auckland.

"Morrocco's offending started off small with truancies and shoplifting, but got bigger and more serious with him getting involved in burglaries, ram raids and aggravated robberies," siad a police officer who dealt with him.

The officer said the youth had been arrested "a number of times", had been remanded in custody, and had years of offending under his belt.

He was affiliated with a small percentage of youth offenders who are classified as "life-course persistent offenders" by police - offenders who begin to behave antisocially early in childhood and continue this behaviour into adulthood.

"Youth offending used to be pretty benign and minor. It used to be shop lifting and vandalism, but now it is hardcore top tier offending which is becoming more common place," the officer said.

Photo posted to Morocco Tai's Facebook page, showing a large amount of cash. Photo / Facebook
Photo posted to Morocco Tai's Facebook page, showing a large amount of cash. Photo / Facebook
Another photo posted to Morrocco's Facebook page, showing a table full of alcohol and cigarettes. Photo / Facebook
Another photo posted to Morrocco's Facebook page, showing a table full of alcohol and cigarettes. Photo / Facebook

Morrocco often shared questionable photos on Facebook. One photo shows him standing with a group of males by a table that is covered in large amounts of cigarettes and alcohol. Another shows cash strewn across a bed.

On September 22, Morrocco was the passenger in a stolen car which was travelling at speeds of up 120km/h in the wrong direction on Auckland's Southern Motorway.

He faced a raft of charges including unlawfully taking a vehicle, dangerous driving, failing to stop for police, aggravated robbery and unlawfully getting into a vehicle.

He was bitten by a police dog during the incident and was hospitalised.

While injured, he continued committing crimes.

"While he was under police guard his friends came and created a diversion and he was able to escape," the unnamed police officer said.

"The only reason he came back again was the fact that he had an infection from the dog bite. He went back into hospital and was remanded into CYF's custody."

The Ministry then arranged someone to watch over Morrocco, the officer said, but the teenager effectively evaded their custody.

"CYFs could not provide a suitable location for him so he continued in his ways and it has resulted in his death," the unnamed source said.

He went on to steal a car from Takanini some time after 7.30pm last Sunday.

The next morning, he was updating his Facebook page asking his friends what they were up to and declaring in his comments that he was "whip riding" and "banging in a whip". Whip is slang for car - derived from the whip used to control the horses on a stagecoach.

Morrocco posted shortly after declaring "the violent offenders are out mf [sic].." and asked friends if they wanted to be picked up.

He was driving the car with two passengers, sisters, when police started pursuing the vehicle just before 6am.

He lost control of the car and crashed. Morrocco died and the sisters were seriously injured. On Friday, a Counties Manukau District Health Board spokeswoman said the girls were now in a stable condition.

Friends respond to the call

The scene of the fatal crash on Bairds Road, Otara, where Morocco Tai lost his life and two women were hospitalised after they fled police in a stolen car.
The scene of the fatal crash on Bairds Road, Otara, where Morocco Tai lost his life and two women were hospitalised after they fled police in a stolen car.

The sisters were among a selection of people who responded to Morrocco's Facebook query asking who wanted to be picked up.

The girls had been enjoying the school holidays and were meant to be returning to school for the fourth term when the crash happened.

They were both students at Otara's Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate, where principal Peter Uys said they "both have a friendly nature".

"There are also other family and whanau members in the school. We will support them during these very difficult times."

Counselling opportunities would be provided to students when the fourth term started on Monday, he said.

Uys was out of Auckland when the crash happened but visited the sisters in hospital when he returned.

"They are making good progress and it looks as if both of them are out of the critical area and are stable," he said.

"It is difficult to say when they will be discharged but I am very grateful that they look much better."

One of the girls shared a photo of herself in a neck brace with a battered bruised face this week, while her sister shared a photo of her in her hospital gown with a gash to her head.

Morrocco was not a student at the school, Uys said, but he expressed his sympathy for the death of the teenager.

"I would like to express my deepest condolences for the tragic loss of a young life."

Uys' message for youth was to put safety first every time.

"You must think twice about the consequences of what you are doing. There are always consequences for your decisions so think before you act."

'We will examine what we did'

Director of Youth Justice Service Development Phil Dinham says everyone in the community has a part to play in reducing youth offending.
Director of Youth Justice Service Development Phil Dinham says everyone in the community has a part to play in reducing youth offending.

Oranga Tamariki say what happened to Morrocco was "absolutely tragic".

"Nobody is going to be happy when somebody they cared for and provided a service to ends up dead," said director of youth justice service development Phil Dinham.

"Something didn't go right in this case and we will examine everything that we did and could have done.

"When things go wrong we feel it and we must learn from these things otherwise they will become repetitive."

Guiding and monitoring youth offenders came with risks, he said.

"Sadly, sometimes it is not preventable and the offenders take risks and you end up with tragedies. Our job is to try and make those as few and far between as possible."

Dinham said everyone in the community had a part to play in tackling the problem of youth offending.

"I know the sort of country I want to live in and it is not a NZ where we have kids armed and attacking people, but equally I don't want a NZ where the answer to that is to lock kids up and keep them locked up."

Youth crime was trending down in New Zealand, but there was a small group getting into high-end offending, Dinham said.

"In New Zealand today we have around 100-120 young people who are of grievous concern because of the harm and risk they present going forward," he said.

"You are always going to get a small group who will spiral into that sort of offending and get worse and worse, but the trick is to try and get hold of them before they do too much damage to their long-term future and people around them."

'Families have stuffed their lives up'

A youth justice residence staff member stands outside the classroom as youth learn. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER.
A youth justice residence staff member stands outside the classroom as youth learn. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER.

Six months after the launch of Oranga Tamariki, Dinham said the organisation was at a crucial point in setting up a new vision and purpose.

"Everyone knows that prevention is better than cure. Getting in early and solving the causes of offending, working with the families and communicating constructively is best.

"The second thing is when you get families who are in distress and don't know where to turn, you have to provide that intensive support.

"Sadly there will be a group of kids that have families that have stuffed their lives up for them and we have to be there to offer some sort of alternative care.

"When we do that we should provide the best quality care because there is no point taking young people away from their family if we aren't offering something better."

Oranga Tamariki currently had four youth justice residences, but was working to develop other community remand facilities so youth had somewhere safe to go.

"All the evidence internationally suggests the moment you cluster young people together in large groups you fed that negative activity. What you find is that smaller, community based interventions are the best thing," Dinham said.

'If you bring a child up in a war zone, you end up with a warrior'

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker said wider society needs to take responsibility for youth offending.
Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker said wider society needs to take responsibility for youth offending.

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker spoke at the Northern Territory Council of Social Services Conference in September about the increase in violent offending, particularly in areas of high population density and high levels of deprivation.

It was coupled with an increase in youth offenders found to have neuro disabilities, mental illness, dislocation from school and disconnection with culture, he said.

Youth offenders also exhibited the effects of traumatic brain injury, sexual abuse, and being brought up in a climate of family violence, alcohol and other drug dependencies.

"Often I finish reading a psychological report detailing the background of a young offender and the question I ask is 'So why is anyone surprised about what has happened?'," he said in his speech.

"The bottom line is, if you bring a child up in a war zone, you end up with a warrior."

Walker said the long-term protection of communities from offending behaviour, and the reclaiming of young lives, required ongoing recognition of what lay beneath the behaviour and effectively addressing it.

He said there was also an emphasis on targeting the high percentage of Maori in Youth Courts by developing Te Koti Rangatahi - where the Youth Court sits on a marae.

"A sense of belonging, knowing ones place in the world and pride in culture and history, is essential for the delivery of effective interventions, addressing underlying causes, for young Maori."

He agreed a community approach was needed.

There is hope

National Manager of Youth Police, Inspector Ross Lienert says putting kids in jail will not solve youth offending.
National Manager of Youth Police, Inspector Ross Lienert says putting kids in jail will not solve youth offending.

National manager of youth police Inspector Ross Lienert believed all youth offenders could be helped with the right intervention.

"There are lots of examples of kids who have come from this type of behavior and turned their lives around," he said.

"There is no excuse for that serious offending, and nor should there be, but they are also hugely vulnerable and if we can address those vulnerabilities and keep the community safe then we are better off as a society for that."

Lienert said the solution to this offending was a cross-agency approach where government agencies worked alongside the community and iwi.

"What we do know is if we keep putting kids in jail, it is not going to solve it.

"Yes we have to keep the community safe and that is a priority, but we also know we can balance that with good programmes and initiatives that support changes in behavior.

"Oranga Tamariki is doing a lot of work in this space; options like small group remand homes, foster care, and other alternatives to being in custody, are being developed as we speak, but these options take time."