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The Column: Help Getting Further Away

The Column: Help Getting Further Away

By Muriel Newman

This week, Newman On-Line looks at average police response times to burglary callouts, and asks how burglary victims can feel safe when they have to wait longer and longer for police assistance

According to a Parliamentary Question I received this week, average police response times to attend a burglary call-out have worsened over the past three years in two-thirds of the police districts around the country.

The region in which burglary victims have had to wait for the longest average period of time for police to attend the crime is Canterbury – where, in June, it took an average of 19 hours and 58 minutes to respond to a burglary call-out. These Canterbury figures are articularly worrying, given that the response time has almost tripled from an average seven hours and 43 minutes just a year ago.

Auckland also has considerable waiting times: a Counties-Manukau burglary victim would have to wait, on average, 19 hours and 22 minutes for the police. In Auckland City, the average wait is 17 hours and 31 minutes. Wellingtonians would need to wait 10 hours and 36 minutes, while the Waikato region’s average response time has doubled from eight hours and 56 minutes a year ago to 16 hours and 21 minutes in June.

Burglary response times are a key indicator of the performance of a government in its core role of maintaining law and order. In a free society, a basic human right should surely be the right to feel safe in our homes and neighbourhoods. Fear of crime is a serious matter which, when keenly felt, prevents people from living their life to the full.

Yet, how can anyone who has been a burglary victim be expected to feel safe when it can take days for police to find the time to investigate their case?

Further, in light of the fact that DNA analysis has replaced fingerprinting as the modern method of forensic crime detection, how can police be expected to find an offender and bring him to justice when, all too often, the Government’s forensic investigation unit can take months or years – not days or weeks – to analyse crime scene evidence?

That is particularly relevant, given that British figures show that only 15 percent of home burglary cases are solved if there is no DNA evidence, whereas 58 percent are solved where DNA evidence is used. In non-dwelling burglary, 54 percent of cases are solved through DNA, whereas only 10 percent are solved without DNA. And, in the theft of goods from vehicles, only six percent are solved without DNA, while 51 percent are solved with DNA.

Investigating burglaries and apprehending offenders is core police work. Many burglars are persistent repeat offenders who will continue to offend if they are not caught and locked away.

One such offender was profiled in the Herald last month. Nicknamed “2stroke” he was reported to have committed some 1,800 burglaries over a 10-year period. Doing-over five to eight houses the day, he said that the proceeds were enormous and buyers at local pubs, willing. He started out targeting unoccupied homes, but soon began robbing cars for his jobs and stealing to order.

When finally arrested, he boasted that he’d got off lightly: “I'd done 1,800 burglaries and only got nabbed for 15”.

While his sentence was two-and-a-half years in prison, weak sentencing laws mean he was out after 13 months.

The lax prison system meant that, rather providing punishment and an incentive to mend his ways, prison gave him a new set of skills that enabled him to become a better burglar.

Clearly 2stroke’s reign, which was largely unfettered, left not only a string of victims in his wake but also some very unhappy insurance companies!

A police officer with 28 years experience, reflecting on policing today, put it this way: “I have never worked under the conditions that now prevail. Lack of police staff, more violent attacks and very weak sentences for serious offences have allowed criminals to get the upper hand”.

Other officers have raised very serious concerns about police being pulled from their investigative duties to issue traffic tickets. That includes senior officers - and CIB - and appears to reflect the Government’s focus on revenue collection rather than fighting crime.

Incidentally, if Labour’s focus were genuinely on increasing road safety – the reason they give for their introduction of traffic ticket quotas and the trebling of tickets issued since being in office – there would be a far greater investment in roading improvements. So many serious road accidents can be linked to dangerous roads, yet Labour seems strangely unwilling to invest in engineering improvements.

I have lived in New York when it was a very dangerous city. Knowing that, today – as a result of an investment in good police practice – it is one of the world’s safest large cities gives me a great deal of hope. It essentially means that it is within our power to make New Zealand one of the safest countries on earth.

Along with reforming the welfare system – remembering that welfare recipients commit some seven out of 10 crimes – the following five steps would be a good start:

Firstly, increasing police numbers to international standards, instead of being one of the western world’s most under-policed nations.

Secondly, encouraging proactive policing through a zero tolerance approach to crime: cracking down on repeat offenders, gangs, and drugs.

Thirdly, giving police the proper tools to do their job: including commonsense legislation, timely DNA analysis, and appropriate equipment.

Fourthly, reforming our sentencing laws so that custodial sentences mean what they say - through the abolition of parole - so that offenders serve their full court-imposed sentence.

And, lastly, prisons must be reformed in such a way that being sentenced to prison is a genuine punishment – freedom from drugs, limited free time, and a requirement to engage in 40 hours-a-week of full-time activity designed to model the workforce - with close supervision and support on release.

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