The Problem with Crime in New Zealand

Recently, when my friend visited from Australia, he read the NZ Herald and said, “The news is all about crime. Bus drivers and police are being attacked. What’s going on?”.  

We know that ramraids are out of control, with shops, malls, dairies, liquor outlets and jewellers being regularly attacked. Some of these outlets are closing. Michael Hill Jeweller closed one of its most profitable outlets and another outlet that also acts as a post office has been forced to close after 20 years. Another owner said they thought they were migrating to a safe country. Now he believes his home country is safer than here. A few years ago, a taxi driver told me that when he owned a dairy and finally after his car was hijacked, he said, enough was enough. He felt the police blamed him.

The issues surrounding crime in New Zealand run deep. It is a multi-faceted problem. From poor policing, with police not being visible on the streets, being over stretched and not enough of them; to weak sentencing by judges; from under 17s not being charged, only to be referred to youth aid, and then returning to the streets to continue their crime spree; to weak or non-existent wrap around services that do not work; to youth correction facilities now being overrun and uncontrollable because the youth age was raised from 16 to 18. This has meant youth workers are unable to control bigger and more dangerous youths and lack facilities, tools, support, and ability to control the young offenders. They feel unsupported as they must second guess every move they make due to management and government scrutiny. Furthermore, there are the government’s policies of releasing more prisoners, encouraging police not to arrest more people, to changing the law to allow reports to be written, to reducing sentences.

Below this is a failing social system where many children are raised in violent homes, with only a mother to provide discipline (if she can), to parents who do not care, to children who do not attend school because their parents do not force them, or do not send them. Additionally, government agencies refuse to move children from violent or dysfunctional homes because it is not culturally correct.

It is easy to say that crime is now becoming a major worry to many New Zealanders. The Herald conducted a poll of 1,000 people from 25th – 29th May, asking if people  were more or less concerned about crime. 67% were more concerned, 28% felt the same and 5% were less concerned. The most common response to dealing with the rising crime was harsher penalties at 34% and 27% said more police would help. *1

Dr John Buttle, a senior lecturer at AUT, said prisons did not work, like harsher penalties and more police did not help either. Further in the Herald article, criticism was also levelled at the post effects of colonization. These statements may seem unrelated, but are intricately interlinked into the malaise in how our institutions and academia feel about dealing with crime in New Zealand. Crime in this country has increased as a direct correlation to the number imprisoned, as the Herald article highlights. The Herald analysis found victims of reported crime had increased by 11.9% between 2017 and 2022, while the numbers of convicted and offenders arrested had fallen by 26.2% and 25.4% respectively. *2

The Herald stated these figures were deceptive, attempting to justify the disparity. Hence, community advocate’s comments of post colonialism and Dr John Buttle’s  related statements that prisons do not work are intrinsically linked. Their statements contradict the facts. Crime is up and punishment is down, which is surely inter-related. Statements on the effects of colonization is a sop to critical race theory (also known as critical theory which is rooted in modern Marxist doctrines) *3 and a failure to recognise we are up to six generations past colonization and that we are in the 21st century. The reason parts of our community are committing crime is a matter of declining attitudes and a failure to fear authority, or have positive values, which is essential to a well-functioning society.

Prisons, harsher sentences, and more police on the streets is only part of the solution. The crime problem runs deep. I have seen it with gang members being arrested at 8am, only to be out on the street at 4pm on the same day dealing drugs. The police are simply not able to hold and charge the criminal because of bail conditions. It is a futile effort and the police I have spoken to feel very frustrated as they cannot hold criminals to account.

Many problems lie deeply buried in society as parts of it become extremely dysfunctional and as many disadvantaged families fail to teach their children strong values, fail to send them to school, deal in violence and drugs. The children know little better. The police have admitted that they have identified many children who are involved in ramraids as being at risk at the age of 4. Thus, we have inter-generational problems that will take at least a generation to resolve.

These problems start early in a child’s life and have long term consequences for society. When these children become teenagers, many do not suffer the consequences of their actions, with 51% of children committing crime not facing any consequences. They are referred to the youth system where wrap around services is provided.  I read of one girl (age 14) involved in ramraids, when “arrested”, complained to police they were wasting her time, because she knew they could not do anything, so why hold her for two hours? She needed to return to the street to do more ramraids.

For those that get into the justice system, things begin to deteriorate. Nathan Morton wrote in the NZ Herald about this when John (not his real name), signed up to serve in the youth justice system.*4  In this article, John talks about how the youth justice system has  fallen into a state of near chaos. When he first joined the service, children up to the age of 16 were referred to the homes to be provided with education, cooking, cultural activities, and discipline. Following a law change in 2019-, 17- and 18-year-olds were referred to youth homes. Consequently, it became much harder to manage them and bring order and discipline into the lives of these children. The result has been the chaos that now permutates these institutions. They cannot lock the children up at night and they do not have the resources or powers to control or even discipline them. They can restrain the boys when appropriate, but much of the time they must stand back and watch. If they do get involved and things escalate, it is the youth worker who is questioned and challenged, not the offender. Consequently, the youth workers are double guessing their own actions, are reluctant to get involved, are getting to the point of questioning what they are doing, are stressed, and even leaving the job because they cannot do their job properly. They are being stabbed, spat on, punched, and kicked. Another worker described the facilities as a holding pen. *5

John and the National Union of Public Employees (Nupe), clearly believe Oranga Tamariki’s position is to side with the youth in “custody,” rather than the youth worker if there is physical contact. How can justice, or more to the point, how can the youth worker do their job properly when they are scrutinised more than the perpetrator? “Staff want locks on doors, working radios and support for the split-second decisions that require physical intervention.” *6

While Oranga Tamariki says these facilities have a major focus on rehabilitation when children are facing serious charges in the youth court, this is not clearly happening since the legislative changes were made in 2019 to add older, stronger, and more dangerous children to these facilities without the proper safeguards first being put in place.

Sadly, our corrective systems are failing to serve their purpose. We are failing at the front end too, at the very beginning of a child’s life. Instead of getting teenagers to understand there are consequences to their actions, we do not charge them or deal with them properly when incarcerated because our justice system is failing here too. It is no wonder crime is increasing or at least the perception of crime is increasing. We feel less safe walking the streets and shop owners also feel less safe. This has nothing to do with colonization. It is due to a system failing all round.

*1 Weekend Herald, 3 June, 2023

*2 Weekend Herald, 3 June, 2023

*3 James Lindsay at the European Parliament

*4 Weekend Herald, 30 May, 2023

*5 Weekend Herald, 30 May, 2023

*6 Weekend Herald, 30 May, 2023