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Heather Roy's Diary - Crime statistics

Heather Roy's Diary - Crime statistics

ACT has put a great deal of focus on crime and justice issues since coming to Parliament, and we often say that "A government's first duty is to provide for the safety and security of its people". Recently the Police released crime statistics for the year ending 30 June, which show that - despite the Labour Party's rhetoric about crime and punishment - reported crime has risen by 7% across the country.

On any average day last year, 1,168 crimes were reported to police. That's 48 crimes an hour - or one every 73 seconds. Just 44% of these were resolved by police - an average of 19 crimes for every sworn and non-sworn police officer.

The media - and many politicians - find it easy to focus on the shocking "headline crimes". Figures like last year's 10% rise in violent crime, and 8% increase in sex offences, certainly provide an opportunity to paint a bleak picture of our criminal justice system. While these crimes are horrible, they make up just 15% of the total number of crimes reported, and their media appeal usually means that they are much easier to debate than to solve.

Making up the bulk of offences - more than a quarter of a million reported offences in all - are dishonesty crimes like theft and burglary. It is these which impact on Kiwi communities particularly hard. Tens of thousands of families each year are left deprived of the things they've worked hard for, and the fear of being targeted again can make victims into prisoners in their own homes, even after a burglar has long since gone.

A now famous article from March 1982's The Atlantic, by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, explains how police giving low priority to minor offences allows a breakdown in the social controls which encourage us all to behave in public. As the spirit of "anything goes" takes over, law-abiding citizens begin to fear venturing out on the streets, and the crimes being committed get worse.

That's why it's particularly disappointing to note that last year the police resolved just 6,000 out of 39,000 burglaries, and 4,000 out of 53,000 thefts. Criminals getting away with these offences quickly learn that crime pays, and many may eventually graduate onto more serious - or violent - crimes.

Two years ago Stephen Franks and I had a break-in at our Wellington electorate office. After being caught for another burglary in Wellington's CBD, the burglar pleaded guilty to more than a hundred offences, and was finally sent to prison. These thugs and thieves, prowling our streets as one person crime waves, leave behind a string of victims who feel less safe in their homes and communities. This wave of victims continues to grow, with 10% more houses burgled last year than the year before, and theft increasing by 12%.

The Good News

There is good news - we know how to turn back this tide. As New York's former Police Chief William Bratton famously said, "The penicillin for dealing with crime is cops". Getting the police out from behind desks and visible in the community works to reduce the fear of crime. It also helps police catch criminals and rebuilds the social order which discourages potential criminals from breaking the law. Making sure that citizens know the police take every crime seriously reassures people that justice really will be done.

Some of our own police districts are making small steps towards increasing their visibility in the community. Aware that they were facing a crisis of confidence, Waitakere police held their first public briefing outside a shopping centre in August, where concerned locals could come and hear where the officers' priorities lay.

Telling the public what our police officers are actually doing to fight crime makes them more transparent and accountable to the public they serve. It lets people see that the police take crime seriously, and means that justice can be seen to be done.

New Zealand police do an outstanding job - but there aren't enough of them, and they lack the resources and leadership they need. Having the courage to focus police officers on what's truly important is one small step, but it's necessary if we're to give people living in fear the courage to venture back onto our streets.

A Thousand Extra Police?

As part of Labour's supply and confidence agreement with New Zealand First after the last election, an extra 1000 sworn and 250 non-sworn police officers were promised over the three year term of government. One year on, progress has not been good, and in some months growth in the police force has been negative. In fact, Police figures show that from 30 June to 30 September, the total number of sworn police has decreased by 14. Of course it is not enough to just declare that another 1000 sworn officers should appear - recruitment initiatives are important, but retaining current officers is the key, and the real issue is that of pay. For policing to be an attractive proposition in a tight labour market it needs to be well paid, with better working conditions. Police Minister Annette King's solution is that each policeman or woman needs to find one other person to become a police officer - so recruitment is added to a policeman's daily job list, while more burglaries are likely to go unsolved. ACT has some more innovative solutions for boosting the police - but that's another article.

More Information On Crime & Punishment

2005/2006 Nationwide Crime Figures Offence type Number Recorded % Change Resolved % Resolved Violence 17,713 +10.2% 41,168 81.3% Sexual 3,448 +8.2% 2,076 60.2% Drugs & Antisocial 54,482 +6.3% 50,241 92.2% Property Damage 47,237 +15.3% 15,123 32.0% Administrative 11,722 -2.9% 10,852 92.6% Burglary Dwelling 39,946 +10.9% 6,291 15.7% Theft (excluding car) 52,997 +12.1% 3,879 7.3% Car Theft & Conversion 24,089 +15.5% 4,823 20.0% All 426,469 +7.7% 188,511 44.2% Some minor crimes omitted. Source: New Zealand Crime Statistics 2005/2006, New Zealand Police

Full tables of offences reported and resolved are avilable for download at http://www.stats.govt.nz/products-and-services/table-builder/crime-tables/ default.htm.

Wilson and Kelling's famous article on "Broken Windows" can also be read online at http://www.lacity.org/council/cd7/index/cd7index68640819_10032006.pdf.


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