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Time For Action -- Dr Muriel Newman

Time For Action -- Dr Muriel Newman

Muriel Newman Speech to Whangarei Electorate, ACT New Zealand

Last week's vicious attack on two tourists at Whangarei Falls is a grim reminder of the violence and crime that is rife in our city. That two of the attackers were children, aged 14 and 17, is a worrying reminder that crime can be intergenerational - learned behaviour passed on from one generation to the next, unless the cycle is broken.

While we don't know the criminal history of the adult attackers - two men aged 21 and 33, and a 36 year-old woman - it would be safe to assume that this violent robbery was not a first offence, and that each has a history of offending.

It is now well recognised that, firstly, offenders usually graduate to more serious crime, based on the fact that there were no consequences to the lesser crimes they committed - whether it were shoplifting, graffiti or disorderly behaviour. Secondly, a small number of offenders in any community commit most of the crime.

A few years ago, a senior Whangarei police officer told me that removing eight crime ringleaders would cause crime to plummet.

The criminal elements in our society have the expectation that they can commit crime willy-nilly - without the fear of being caught - and that if you are caught, the punishment will be akin to a slap on the hand with a wet bus ticket.

I, for one, think this is totally unacceptable. The Whangarei public should not have to tolerate the violence and crime that is endemic in our community. We should be safe in our homes, and on our streets, and visitors to our city should be free to enjoy their holidays without fear of crime. That means enforcing a zero tolerance to crime in Whangarei by requiring the District Council to work closer with police to ensure that effective strong law enforcement does take place.

A zero tolerance approach to crime begins by targeting crimes of disorderly behaviour, and other low-level crimes, that are the starting blocks to more serious offending. Left unchecked, such criminal behaviour is the precursor of the violent robbery we saw last week.

I am calling on the district council to do more than pay lip service to this problem -it is not good enough that, by simply engaging in community-based initiatives, the council thinks it is fulfilling its duty. It is not.

The mayor should be taking a stronger lead in reducing crime. As the local leader of our community, he should be working with police on a daily basis, reviewing details of all crimes committed on his patch each day and working of effective crime reduction strategies. He needs to know exactly what's going on as it happens - not six months later, when the "official" crime figures are released.

There are countless examples overseas of local body leaders working closely with police to proactively reduce crime in their communities. A perfect example is the city of Middlesborough in the UK, where the mayor has demanded that police get back on the streets and proactively patrol high crime areas. Further, he has spearheaded a campaign to, not only to clampdown on low level crime that intimidates local people but, crackdown on - and lock up - those serious repeat offenders who are crime-waves in their own right.

Every morning the mayor works with police chiefs to analyse yesterday's crime and work out an action plan to combat today's crime. Such strategies not only involve police, but the local council as well - ensuring sufficient street lights, enforcing liquor bans, removing graffiti and the like. By working in partnership, the police and local council have transformed Middlesborough from a crime-ridden city to one of that country's safest.

Last week's attack on the tourists at Whangarei Falls by some of our local thugs have done significant damage to our reputation as a premier tourist route and a lifestyle destination. It should be a wake-up call to our mayor and his councillors to stop sleeping on the job, dithering about trees and GE and to begin an affirmative action campaign to keep our city safe. We need a city we can all be proud of. Crimes like the one last week make us feel ashamed of living in Whangarei.

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