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Hide - It's time to get tough on crime

It's time to get tough on crime
Rodney Hide
Tuesday, 19 April 2005

Speeches - Crime & Justice

Address to the Christchurch Rotary Club; Copthorne Hotel; Christchurch; 12pm; Tuesday, 19 April 2005.

Last month I told the country about a scandal.

I’m not talking about Mr Tamihere.

I’m talking about a South Auckland Dairy owner under siege from young criminals with the police too busy to do anything about it.

Here is an honest hardworking family working long days. Working seven-day weeks. A family who provides for themselves and pays their taxes. Their only ask from the Government is that some of the taxes pay for the protection of the family and their property.

The thieves just walk in at will and take what they want. The dairy owner knows who they are. He knows where they live. But still the police do nothing. The thieves know the police won’t chase them and they rob the dairy owner and his neighbouring shops for whatever they need, safe in the knowledge that they will never be chased.

The police wrote to the dairy owner saying they were too busy and that his complaint was filed. His neighbouring store owners gave up complaining to the police a long time ago. Our South Auckland dairy owner had recently arrived in New Zealand from India and expected the police would do something. They didn’t.

Never mind that the dairy owner had supplied police with camera footage of the offender and names and addresses.

Talk about making their job easy. A Sunday Star-Times reporter tracked down the thief in under 30 minutes. But still, police were too busy with other things.

What can police be so busy doing?

Labour Government spin tells us that crime is coming down, and police numbers are going up. Hang on. Crime down. Police numbers up. How can they be too busy?

The answer is that the Government spin is wrong. Our police are overstretched combating ever-increasing violent crime.

Under Labour, violent crime has increased 14 percent. And that’s just reported violent crime. There are increasing numbers of people not reporting crime because they know the police will not deal with it. Just like our Auckland dairy owner.

Why bother reporting crime if your complaint is going to be filed?

In 1999, police recorded 39,688 violent offences in New Zealand.

Last year Police recorded 45,229 violent offences. A 14 percent increase since 1999.

The increase in violent crime helps explain why police are so busy.

I was contacted by police after I raised the dairy owner’s plight in the media. The police said they were just pleased they managed to write to him. They had rape cases they couldn’t investigate because they didn’t have the manpower. It turns out there are hundreds of files of serious crimes that are unallocated to an investigating officer because there are no investigating officers to allocate them too.

The police are simply overwhelmed. They are doing band-aid policing where they must concentrate their resources on the serious high profile cases and leave many serious crimes unattended and petty crime simply filed.

But the increase in violent crime is only part of the problem.

Police have been instructed year by year to increase the level of time and effort they spend doing traffic ticketing.

Each year, the Minister of Police negotiates an agreement with the Commissioner of Police. This contains targets for the number of tickets police are expected to issue over the coming year.

The police commissioner’s performance is assessed against, among other things, whether police manage to issue that number of tickets.

The responsibility for this gets passed down the chain.

There is no responsibility for reducing violent crime.

But there is responsibility for issuing a certain number of traffic tickets.

So the police make sure they do what the Government has told them to do. They make sure officers do traffic policing, and they make sure that enough speeding tickets are issued so that at the end of the year they get a big tick against that performance measure.

None of this is any comfort to our dairy owner, who police are too busy to help.

The young thugs targeting his store are given a clear message about the Government’s attitude to law and order.

They know the Government doesn’t care if they break the law. They know they won’t even bother to investigate.

As long as they keep within the speed limit.

The message to the young thugs is simple: crime pays in New Zealand.

The police minister defends Labour’s soft on crime policies.

He defends the focus on traffic tickets saying that sometimes burglars get caught speeding and that’s a good way to catch them.

He says that women are more afraid of bad drivers than of the possibility of being a crime victim.

This is absolute nonsense.

The focus on traffic is about revenue raising pure and simple. Despite doubling the number and amount of traffic tickets issued, the Government has not significantly altered the trend for the number of crashes or for the number of road fatalities. In the case of road fatalities, the reducing trend has recently bottomed out and is showing signs of increasing again.

Under the Government’s soft-on-crime policies, New Zealanders suffer with one of the highest crime rates in the developed world.

Labour’s softly-softly approach is going to make it worse not better.

The new Sentencing Act instructs judges to go for a non-custodial sentence if they can.

For those unlucky enough to get a custodial sentence, the majority automatically get their sentence cut in half by the Parole Act.

So, two year’s jail actually means 12 months jail. Just like that.

And hundreds of these apply and are granted home detention.

And despite all the talk about rehabilitation, the reality is that a high number of those released from prison reoffend within a short period.

A recent census of prison inmates asked how many previous terms of imprisonment inmates had. Many had more than 10 previous spells. Three had more than 50!

I find it difficult to comprehend how someone can be jailed 50 separate times.

Yet, there’s a parole board somewhere who sincerely believe that he’s no longer a risk to the community after his 51st stint inside.

The reality is that despite a few ‘headline crimes’ attracting longer sentences, the majority of offenders see the justice system operating very much like a revolving door.

The police, stretched as thin as they are, find they are invariably catching the same scumbags again and again.

They might be off the street for a few months, but the certainty is they will be back.

Think of the savings if the Government did the job properly.

The police would have to catch them just once every three or four years, instead of two or three times.

But think about how many fewer victims of crime there would be.

There is no reason why New Zealand can’t be the safest country in the world in which to live and to work. That should be our goal.

We know what to do.

ACT has led the way on law and order. We have tried to amend Labour’s softly softly legislation at every stage to remove the worst elements.

But the laws are still bad.

And the message to criminals is clear. You will be dealt with more harshly for speeding than for stealing.

Here’s what we need to do. Understand one thing: policing matters. So too does sentencing.

We need more police and we need active policing. I mean the police out and about policing the streets, our homes our places of work.

Their attitude must change. No longer band-aid policing. Zero tolerance policing. That means police act on all crimes no matter how small.

That’s what’s worked on the tough streets of New York and the UK. That’s what will work here.

It is about sending a message that society will not tolerate crime of any sort. Petty crime included.

At our conference we heard from Middlesborough Mayor Ray Mellon, who as police chief in the city introduced zero tolerance policing. He told us what worked. He explained that concentrating on petty crime stops the big crime. That’s because a strong message is sent to young people that crime won’t be tolerated.

Under ACT’s zero tolerance policy, it will no longer be acceptable to say to criminals their crime is OK because the police are busy investigating more serious stuff.

And we need punishment that matches the crime. Not this wet bus ticket stuff. ACT will abolish parole. If the judge sentences someone to two years jail. They will serve two years jail.

This doesn’t mean a doubling of prison costs as some of our critics claim. For a start, there’s the deterrent effect of the truth in sentencing policy. This will mean fewer crimes committed.

Then there’s the fact that many crimes are committed by repeat offenders. Each year, criminals on parole commit thousands of crimes. And many of these criminals end up back in jail.

Without parole, these crimes won’t happen.

And in many cases, instead of serving two half sentences for two offences, offenders will simply serve one whole one for one offence.

Same jail time, but one less victim.

In fact, international evidence indicates an effective doubling of sentences only leads to a 50% increase in inmate numbers and resulting costs.

New Zealand also needs more police. The number of police relative to the overall population is low by international standards. It is about 20% below Australia’s. On this basis, New Zealand could do with another 2,000 police.

New Zealand spends less than 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on police. Even with funding for another 2000 police, it would still be less than 1% of GDP.

ACT says this is worth the price.

One of the primary duties of government is to keep people and their families safe from crime.

Successive governments have ignored this primary responsibility in favour of frivolous spending, on everything from Maori television, business grants to millionaire companies and America’s Cup challenges.

They have failed in their primary duty to keep us safe.

ACT policies of tougher sentencing, no parole and more police, will reverse the odds in favour of law-abiding New Zealanders.

ACT will turn the tables on criminals, so it is them who are afraid to walk the streets.

Let’s make New Zealand safe again for law-abiding citizens. Let’s reclaim our streets, the safety of our homes and our workplaces. Let’s make New Zealand the safest country in the world.

We can do it. But we need your support. You have two votes this election. ACT is asking for just one of them. Your party vote. We need law-abiding New Zealanders to vote for ACT – because the criminals aren’t.


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