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Police altered official crime statistics to make hundreds of burglaries disappear, a Herald on Sunday investigation has found.
A damning report obtained by the newspaper reveals the burglaries were instead recorded as more minor crimes, or as incidents, which are not counted in crime statistics at all.
Five police staff, including then area commander Gary Hill, were sanctioned over the incident, and an "extremely disappointed" Police Minister, Anne Tolley, has moved to reassure the public this is an isolated incident.
About 700 burglaries were "recoded" in the Counties Manukau south area over three years, an internal police investigation has found. It found that about 70 per cent of the time, the offences should have remained burglaries.
The revelations will be an embarrassment for Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who was district commander of the area at the time, although he was not responsible for overseeing the coding.
Police have not said why the statistics were altered, but say staff were not under instruction to do so. Tolley denied police were under political pressure to reduce burglary statistics.
An investigation began after the Independent Police Conduct Authority received three anonymous complaints alleging "corrupt management practices" in the region, which spans Papakura, Pukekohe, Drury and Waiuku.
Counties Manukau district commander Superintendent John Tims said police were very disappointed when the misconduct was discovered. "The irregularities were of considerable concern and undermined the great work done by our staff in this community."
He said the five staff who faced disciplinary proceedings had faced a range of sanctions, which were confidential because of employment laws. Tims said the problem was confined to one area between 2009 and 2012, and had little impact on recorded crime statistics in the district.
"Police are absolutely committed to ensuring that our crime recording is as accurate as possible. We know this is a key measure of how the public judges our performance, and this in turn influences how safe people feel in their communities."
Tolley said she had received assurances from Commissioner Mike Bush it was not widespread.
Bush, who declined to be interviewed for this story, was Counties Manukau district commander from 2008 until March 2011, but Tims said responsibility for how crime was recorded lay not with Bush but with the area commander.
The review listed dozens of examples where break-ins and attempted burglaries were downgraded, including one case where police failed to follow up after a witness gave them a burglar's registration number.
The review found the burglary recoding rates in Counties Manukau south at the time were 15 per cent to 30 per cent whereas other areas typically recoded about 5 per cent.
Labour police spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said it was an "incredibly damning" insight into how the crime statistics could be altered to match a certain agenda. "Political targets skew behaviour. In this case, the integrity of the crime statistics in that area have been seriously undermined.
"This may be isolated, it may not be. It's one thing to be focused on bringing burglaries down but we want to make sure it's genuinely happening and not just on paper."
She said reduced crime rates had been used as justification by the Government to reduce frontline police in some areas.
Tolley said there was no pressure from the Government to fudge the statistics, and the public expected "our police to do their very best to tackle and prevent crime, and they have been delivering excellent results for our communities.
"It's extremely disappointing that the hard-working police staff in Counties Manukau have been let down by the actions of a few."
Tims said the analysis since the internal review found that the incorrect coding of burglaries would have "affected less than half of 1 per cent of Counties Manukau's approximately 150,000 recorded crimes over that time". When he assumed the role of area commander of Counties Manukau south in February 2010, Hill said his key priority was cutting burglary statistics.
Barely 18 months later he left the role, and told the Papakura Courier that he had inherited a "rudderless" and "out-of-control" area. Yesterday, Hill said he left the police six months after the Code of Conduct hearings to pursue business interests.
He was supported by the Police Managers' Guild Trust, whose executive officer Earle Cooper said there was no serious misconduct among staff. Cooper said two separate internal police inquiries found staff had simply failed to follow national guidelines for burglary coding.
The Review of Counties Manukau South Area Recoded Burglary Occurrences 2009 to 2012 was carried out by Police National Headquarters' performance monitoring group.
In the year to June 30 2013, there were 365,185 recorded crimes across the country, and 170,377 of those were resolved.
• Offender enters yard, opens shed and steals lawnmower, weedeater and petrol. Seen by neighbour and vehicle registration noted. Recoded as theft.
• During day while victim outside front of address, front door open, offender enters and handbag stolen from kitchen bench. Recoded as theft.
• Offenders jemmy a kitchen window to gain entry, attempt made to remove hot water cylinder which was left by offenders in hallway. Appears disturbed. Recoded as intentional damage.
Burglary to incident
• Occupant left house, offender enters through rear window possibly left open, searched through bedrooms.
• Dwelling secured when occupant left address at noon, alarm activated at 2.30pm. Offender has forced window to rumpus room to gain entry. Neighbour has seen offender running out of house.
• Sleepout occupied by complainant. Offender reported as having climbed into garage through rear window and removed television and laptop from inside the sleepout.
A year on, family give up hope on complaint
A Waiuku family burgled as they slept have no idea what police have done with their complaint and have given up hope of the offenders being caught.
Andrew Wood was asleep with his children Zoey, 4, and Jack, 6, when burglars broke in through a lounge window in July last year. His wife, Amanda, was working shiftwork.
The burglars escaped through the front door with thousands of dollars worth of electronic equipment, including two PlayStations, a smart phone and a tablet.
"It's lucky the kids were sleeping with dad because the burglars went into Zoey's room, that is what really worries us," said Amanda.
Andrew, a martial artist trained in Tae Kwon Do, cage fighting and Mixed Martial Arts, woke early and noticed things were not right around the house. Sitting in the dark at the back door while the children slept, he waited for the burglars to return for a pile of electronic equipment they had stacked there.
"I don't care who they were, I was waiting and I was ready. I could have dished out the justice," Andrew said.
When they didn't return before the kids woke at 6am, Andrew called his wife and police.
"We had a good response that first day. Two guys came, then two more with the fingerprint guys," Amanda said.
The next day police also checked in, advising the family about other burglaries in the area.
"The next week I called the police station to find out what was going on. I was told I was talking to the wrong person. That's it. That's the end except for the battle we had to go through with the insurance company," she said.
"We hoped because it was a serious crime they would do something about it, but that hope is long since gone. My worry is that the criminals who did this are not getting caught so they are not getting the help they need with their problems."