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Muriel Newman Column: Crime Wave

Muriel Newman Column: Crime Wave


Crime Wave

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman MP

The latest crime statistics released by the Police this week show that crime has risen in every single category. Auckland's results can only be described as shocking - homicide up by 33 per cent, kidnapping and abduction up 29 per cent, robbery up 18 per cent, minor assault up 21 per cent, sexual offences up 17.5 per cent and hard drug offences up 25 per cent.

This reversal in what had been a downward trend in crime is extremely worrying. For a decade, total recorded crime and the level per 100,000 of population had been falling. Resolution rates, which had been improving for many years, have now also dropped by 2.6 per cent for all crime.

These statistics are the result of government under-resourcing. Since 1999 when Labour came to power, spending on police has dropped from 2 per cent of total government spending to 1.9 per cent. Although the government spends more than $41 billion, only $795 million is spent on police. In the complex area of budget allocations, police is obviously not considered by this government to be a high priority in spite of the clear message sent in the 1999 referendum on law and order, that 92 per cent of voters wanted New Zealand to become a safer society.

In response to this year's budget announcement, the Commissioner of Police stated that "most of the money was aimed at meeting personnel costs". Essentially that leaves inadequate resources for operational requirements. As a result, crime is rising.

To make matters worse, the police have lost over a thousand experienced staff over the last two years. Every senior police officer that leaves the force takes with him experience and institutional knowledge that is very hard to replace. The fact that police numbers in Auckland are down by about a hundred certainly helps to explain why that city's crime statistics are so bad.

If we are to turn the situation around we need to adopt the sort of 'zero tolerance to crime' approach that made New York one of the world's safest large cities. That means investing in the police, giving them the resources and the mandate to crack down on petty crime, in order to stop offenders graduating to more serious crime, and to get tough on the small number of repeat offenders who are responsible for most of the crime in any community.

It also means changing sentencing laws as a priority to ensure that they appropriately punish perpetrators of crime, as well as acting as a deterrent. It is extremely disheartening for the police to find that when they finally gain a conviction, that under this government's new sentencing laws, offenders are now only required to serve half of short sentences and a third of longer ones.

The problem is that if a country's sentencing regime is too lenient, then the signal it sends out is the wrong one.

Take the recent case of a 25-year-old man who appeared in court on a charge of failing to comply with instructions from a probation officer. The notorious criminal with over 40 criminal convictions - including aggravated robbery, assault, threatening behaviour, injuring with intent, fraud, resisting arrest, possession of cannabis, fighting and burglary - had failed to comply with a court sentence of 400 hours of community work in order to remit $4000 of the $9980 of fines he owed.

The Judge decided that an afternoon in the cells would be sufficient to wipe the community work as well as the $10,000 of fines. According to information I have received, he spent a very pleasant afternoon in the Courthouse cells chatting to his brother! He then left, thumbing his nose at the police and laughing at the law.

I believe that this case deserves a judicial review. It sends out completely the wrong message to the community, to victims and to offenders alike. It also makes a mockery of the good work being done by the police.

At a time when twelve year olds are involved in murder, eleven year olds in rape, and ten year olds are smoking dope and watching pornography, our justice system, now more than ever, should be sending out the very strong message to offenders and their families that society will not tolerate crime, that crime does not pay, and that if someone chooses to stray off the straight and narrow, then the consequences will be seriously uncomfortable.

* * *

Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

View the archive of columns at http://www.act.org.nz/action/murielnewman.html

Visit ACT New Zealand's web site: http://www.act.org.nz


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