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Mark Blumsky: 'Safer City' Public Meeting

'Safer City' Public Meeting speech notes for Wellington Mayor Mark Blumsky

Embargoed until 7pm Monday 19 July 1999

Welcome to your "Safer City" meeting. Welcome to your chance to have a say about safety in our streets and make a difference. Thank you all for coming - it seems like everyone is very busy these days and I appreciate you taking the time to show you care.

Some busy people couldn't be here to night, among them Ohariu Blemont MP Peter Dunne who sends his apologies. Mr Dunne says he believes everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in their community and expresses his interest in working with the Council to make Wellington a safer place.

Wellington has gone from boring to vibrant in the last 10 years. Once considered a grey city full of grey bureaucrats in grey suits, Wellington has transformed itself into a city of sophistication and energy, a city that's sure of its identity, a city whose unrivalled arts, cultural, sport and dining experiences are attracting more visitors than ever before.

The Wellington City Council is doing all it can to fuel that vibrancy. We are very, very aware that in doing so, we are helping ensure the city's future success as a visitor destination and New Zealand's most liveable city.

That vibrancy is a big part of my personal vision for the city, but public safety is no less important a part of that vision.

To make that vision a reality, I've been working on a manifesto of safety initiatives for most of the last year. At the same time, council officers have been putting together a city-wide safety strategy. Two months ago, those projects were both on track for release in August.

But then something happened.

In the morning of Sunday 9 May 1999, Jeff Whittington died in Wellington Hospital's intensive care unit after he was savagely beaten by two men a little after 4am the previous morning. He was 14 years old.

Because of certain facts - Jeff was very young, he was doing drugs, and he died as a result of his injuries - the media got hold of the story and started reporting assaults in the city as if they were part of a crime wave.

I think it's important to bear in mind that Wellington is still, by and large, a very safe city. But assaults have been happening and the impression has grown that Wellington is not as safe as we would like.

To counter this impression, I decided to bring forward the release of some of the initiatives I'd been preparing for release in August. So, in consultation with Cr Stephanie Cook, I published full page-ads in the Evening Post and the Dominion on May 26 and 27 featuring a set of 9 initiatives that we could implement quickly to re-establish Wellingtonians' confidence in the safety of their streets. I'll go over those initiatives with you in just a minute.

Before we could implement anything, however, we had to find out what the community thought of those initiatives and gather other ideas as well. So, with vital hands-on assistance from Cr Alick Shaw, we started running a series of focus groups, the results of the first of which Council Strategy Manager Ruth Harrison will take you through in a moment.

Of course, the biggest focus group we are consulting is the one we have gathered here tonight. This is where we show you the results of all our research, planning and consultation thus far and ask you these two questions:
What do you think of our ideas?
What ideas do you have that will make Wellington an even safer city?

But first, there's an even more fundamental question we're asking tonight: What should the Council's role in all this be? Should ratepayers' money be spent in an area that has previously been the responsibility of the Police?

One thing I want to make very clear tonight is that we are not trying to replace the Police, nor are we criticising the job they do. I think the Police do a fantastic job within very limited resources. Our argument is not with the cops. The recent success of "Operation Youth" is a perfect example of what well-directed policing can achieve. If we have any argument, it's with a Government that isn't giving the cops the resources they need to do the job properly.

In an effort to ensure the cops get the resources they need, I am writing on behalf of all the metropolitan mayors to politicians and senior officials requesting that a comprehensive strategic assessment of New Zealand's policing needs be carried out. I believe that most New Zealanders are not happy with the level of law and order in the country but no one is asking them for their opinion.

In Wellington, what we're doing is suggesting ways to help the Police make the city safer and getting your opinions on those suggestions. Standing by and doing nothing is not an option. It's about partnerships. It's about consulting the community, co-operating with the Police and canvassing local businesses for assistance and sponsorship. That way we will come up with the best ideas, find the right resources and minimise the financial impact on the ratepayer as much as possible.

So yes, I believe it is apt that Wellington City Council plays a leadership role on this issue. It's part of our function to build strong communities, safe communities, communities that help and support each other.

To sustain the vibrancy and success of this city, it's essential that people feel safe when they're out and about. But the message I've been getting is they don't. I live in the inner city and personally, I don't care what the stats say - if I don't feel safe it's just not good enough.

So we're here tonight to come up with some action. We're asking you for your input because we know that if any initiative is going to work it needs grassroots support. That's the special ingredient that makes local government initiatives strong, that's what makes them work, that's why local governments can do things that central government can't.

This meeting is the place where you can make a difference and I invite you all to be a part of that process.


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