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Crime in Taupo = Time to Avoid Moral Panic

Crime in Taupo = Time to Avoid Moral Panic says Rethinking

"One-off tragedies like the Karen Aim murder present an opportunity for advocates for punitive and repressive approaches to crime prevention and public safety. They raise the level of public fear, exploit victims, and propose unworkable and repressive ideas. That is the view of Kim Workman, Project Leader, Rethinking Crime and Punishment. "

"let's look back to December 2007" said Mr Workman. In December 2007, Garth McVicar and Kelly Te Heu Heu raised issues about community safety in Taupo. Community leaders responded by pointing out that there was no cause for alarm. Senior Sgt Tony Jeurison took the view that Police survey of the community showed that Taupo was considered a safe town. A survey showed that 81% of the community felt safe, and improvement over the 77% two years previously. The Principals of Taupo-Nui-a-tia Tauhara Colleges denied any significant youth crime problems, and the ERO report for Tauhara was a very good one. The Police and criminal justice statistics do not reveal any great variation either in recent increases, or in comparison with communities of a similar size. There is no discernable youth crime wave.

The Karen Aim murder presented an opportunity for further dialogue, about what could be done to reduce offending levels further. Local community leaders made excellent contributions. Mayor Rick Cooper proposed the establishment of a Safer Community Council. Senior Sergeant Jeurison showed he had a very pragmatic grasp of the issues. Maurice Gianotti and Tiwha Hakaraia came to the party with very sensible and workable ideas, all emphasising the need for the community to work together.

Josef Stalin once said, "One death is a tragedy – one hundred deaths is a statistic". The Karen Aim murder was a tragedy. What it didn't do was provide evidence of a significant increase in youth crime, or demonstrate evidence of a recent upwards trend. What it did do was to sensitise the community – with some members of the community clearly feeling less safe.

Enter the Sensible Sentencing Trust, with tatics it has been using for some time. Its strategy is to:

1) "Beat up" the crime issue in the community,
2) Contact the victim's family, and offer advice and support,
3) Encourage victims to speak out and become public icons, at a time when they are often heavily traumatised, and need to have their privacy and dignity respected,
4) Introduce a package of proposals which are highly punitive and unworkable
5) Claim that what currently exists is not working, (including family group conferences, restorative justice conferences, and community based sentencing. The evidence does not support that view. All this is done to promote their call for more punitive measures.

The unfortunate aspect of this intrusion upon the community is that none of their so-called solutions have been known to work. The package usually includes:

1. Early arrest of young offenders, mandatory court appearances, and imprisonment at an early age;
2. Boot camps for young offenders;
3. "Tent Cities" - harsh, highly punitive prison sentences
4. Chain Gangs
5. Reduction of the age of criminal responsibility
6. Zero Tolerance/ Broken Windows approach to crime prevention

All those proposals have been thoroughly researched over the years, and the evidence is pretty clear, if any of those ideas were introduced, (with the exception of Broken Windows) they would most likely result in an increase in youth offending, rather than a decrease. The concept of zero tolerance is widely misunderstood, and the evidence for its effectiveness is greatly overblown. On the other hand, there is very good evidence to show that the programs that are currently criticised by the SST are giving good results – although there is always room for improvement.

Local community leaders need to be aware that an invitation to the Sensible Sentencing Trust to promote its policies, is more likely to increase crime and community fear, than reduce offending and promote public safety and wellbeing


Attachment: Letter to Rick Cooper, Taupo District Council

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