By Bronwyn Sell
Taupo community leaders are boosting crime-fighting schemes after a surge in thefts by "mindless hoons" that has hit tourists particularly hard.
Thieves are preying mainly on tourist spots, including Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon, and visitors are losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash and gear.
The Taupo mayor, Joan Williamson, concerned that the thefts were reflecting badly on the town and frustrating locals, yesterday called a meeting of community leaders to discuss solutions.
The move follows a similar initiative in Rotorua, where a taskforce was set up last month to tackle a rise in thefts.
"The community's sick of it," Mrs Williamson said. "The money we spend promoting the area is being undermined by these mindless hoons.
"For too long we've been expecting the police to take all the responsibility for crime. But they are underfunded and understaffed."
Nearly 530 cars were broken into in the town in the year to February, compared with 310 the year before.
Mrs Williamson said this month's Taupo Ironman event was marred by a spate of thefts.
"I felt huge pride in the way the community turned out in support and on the other hand I felt ashamed that some of our visitors, and local people too, were taken advantage of."
The vice-chairman of the Taupo Safer Communities Council, Ian Pilbrow, said New Zealand's reputation as a safe country was being tarnished by thefts from tourists. "The cost to New Zealand and in particular the Taupo district is immense."
Mr Pilbrow has proposed a 24-hour two-person paid squad to patrol vulnerable areas for 100 hours each week, in addition to existing volunteer patrols.
"We want [offenders] looking over their shoulders all the time."
A working party was set up after yesterday's meeting to put the ideas into action and raise money.
Taupo's community constable, Grant Tullock, supported Mr Pilbrow's idea.
"The police are as concerned as anybody. We certainly don't have the staff to be on every corner and we're getting thinner and thinner."
By Bronwyn Sell