“I’m so scared, I’m just so scared.”
They’re the words of a businesswoman I met terrified that today will be the day she gets ram raided. Shops on either side of hers have been hit in recent months. She knows it’s only a matter of time.
“I’m so scared, please help me.”
A few blocks over, the local dairy owner said he’d been burgled twice in three days by some kids. He looked worn down. I heard how much effort he’d put into his shop only to feel it’s not worth it anymore.
Over the past few days, I’ve been out visiting local shops in Auckland, talking to business owners and staff behind the counters. What they’re having to deal with every day just to earn a living for themselves and their families is wrong.
It’s not just one or two shops targeted, or one area. Crime is everywhere.
This weekend, I visited a cafe in Kohimarama that had their windows smashed by some kids in a car and the till stolen. Three weeks ago, it was the same story with a cafe in Glen Innes. Kids smashing windows and taking what they could. A local IT shop and roast shop had seen the same thing happen, multiple times.
What has happened to our country? How did this become normal?
No one should fear just trying to do their job and make an honest living. Dairy owners shouldn’t need to be caged into their own shops with bars on the counter, fog cannons inside and bollards outside, to sell milk and bread to their communities. Hairdressers and cafe owners shouldn’t be waking up to hear their windows are smashed again, money stolen.
Not here. Not in New Zealand.
These kids should be in bed or at school, but they’re inflicting so much terror and causing so much damage.
Why is this happening? The answer is a lack of consequences. Labour came to office promising to scrap longer sentences for repeat violent and sexual offenders, reduce prison numbers by 30 per cent, and not build any more prisons. The results are playing out in Kiwi communities with tragic consequences.
Act has proposed a clear pathway of consequences for young offenders, from instant practical penalties, to ankle bracelets for offenders, to secure facilities to keep offenders in if they do not comply with earlier sanctions. It then needs to get them back to school or employment. Act’s Alternative Budget – A Time for Truth, invests $677 million over the next four years on creating and maintaining 200 new youth justice beds, under the control of the Department of Corrections.
Some people will say it’s cruel to punish youth offenders. What’s truly cruel is for these offenders to face no consequences until they end up in adult prison. The sad reality is that many of these offenders will probably be gaining access to mental health support, good food and a safe environment for the first time in their lives when they enter these facilities. That’s not a nice thing to think about but it’s the truth, and to leave these kids running riot is as good as giving up on them.
Youth offenders know they can’t be touched, the adults who tell them to commit crimes also know this. That’s why the most brazen and risky crimes are increasingly performed by people too young for the police to be able to deal with. That’s why teenagers are robbing Michael Hill Jewellers in broad daylight. The biggest loophole in New Zealand’s law and order system is a lack of consequences for youth offenders.
It’s not just youth offenders who need consequences. There is something seriously wrong when police report that in the last year there have been six and half thousand more innocent people attacked, robbed and otherwise terrorised with impunity, but there are 2878 fewer sentenced prisoners behind bars. The Police Minister said on the weekend that it’s hard to find a correlation between increasing crime and less imprisonment … really?
The next Government with Act in it would remove the Government’s target of reducing the prison population. Having fewer people in prison is certainly a noble goal, but it needs to be achieved with better rehabilitation and curbing reoffending, not by simply setting an arbitrary target that means fewer prison sentences are handed out.
Act’s policies of reinstating Three Strikes, reviewing the use of electronic monitoring, and requiring rehabilitation before parole will mean more criminals are serving prison sentences. To ensure there’s enough room for them our Alternative Budget invests $1 billion to build and resource a further 500 beds.
It’s well past time for a change of values on crime. New Zealand can’t be allowed to reach a point where kids grow up thinking it is normal for dairy owners to be caged in and scared of what might happen every day, families afraid to leave their homes, and businesses having to hire private security just to open their doors.
The first job of any government is to keep innocent people safe. It’s time for solutions and to put victims back at the centre of our justice system.