Crime in the city: Political and city leaders respond to the rise in violent crime
Political and city leaders weigh in on what they believe is behind the rise in violent crime and what can be done to prevent more harm.
Act Party justice and firearms spokeswoman Nicole McKee said Labour’s “soft” approach had seen an increase in reported crime and gun violence over the past few years.
“The response has been gangs and criminals running amok.”
Part of this “soft” approach included setting targets for reducing the prison population and lighter sentences.
“We need to make sure those who commit serious offences go to jail and do the time.
“But we are also keen to see all of those in jail go through a proper rehabilitation process, so when they come out they have the skillsets they need. This recidivism has to stop.”
Green Party justice spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman said rather than “politicising” crime, there needed to be more focus on why it occurred.
“The militarisation of police and imprisonment have been failed mechanisms.”
Lengthy prison sentences had not seen a reduction in offending, and domestic and sexual violence rates were not impacted at all by deterrence, she said.
“We need to look at models and policies that do work, so funding better mental health and addiction services, housing, addressing inequality, the type of things that keep the community safe and crime low.”
Police Minister Poto Williams said the Government had taken strong action on tackling gangs and gun violence. This included prohibiting most dangerous firearms, implementing harsher penalties for gun crime, and a tougher licensing system to ensure firearms do not fall into the wrong hands.
The Government was committed to a register by June 2023 to better track firearms in the community, and would be introducing a Firearms Prohibition Orders Bill to Parliament by the end of the year.
Police operations had seen over 1700 guns seized in the past year, and $500m in cash and assets from gangs and criminals in four years.
“This government has never been more active in targeting the gangs and criminal leaders, and getting them off the street.”
National Party police spokesman Simeon Brown said there had definitely been an increase in crime over the past few years, including a doubling of serious assaults.
He was also concerned about the growing gang member numbers and corresponding tensions.
A major concern was the number of new police coming onto the force.
The previous Government failed to deliver its promised 1800 new police officers in three years to bolster the workforce.
Instead, it’s scaled this back to two goals; 1800 new recruits, which it has met, and a net increase of 1800. Meanwhile the number leaving the force continues to outrun those joining, with 168 leaving in the four months to July 2021, bringing the net gain to 1171.
“We are hearing from police they are just too busy following up on crime not able to get ahead and into the important work of prevention. They say they are on the back foot and they are losing.”
Brown supported the firearm prohibition orders to be introduced, similar to a bill he had proposed, and said the Government also needed to keep a close eye on rising crime rates associated with emergency accommodation.
Te Pāti Māori
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said they wanted to see more effort go into eliminating racial profiling.
“After our hui with the police commissioner, we understand a lot of work is going into addressing systemic racism, but there is still a long way to go.
“Arming the police would go completely against this commitment and would have dangerous consequences for our people.”
The party also wanted a stronger focus on the causes of crimes.
“Most of these can be traced back to harmful colonial systems which disenfranchise and oppress our people.
“We believe that the solution for this lies in by Māori, for Māori solutions such as Whānau Ora and community-driven programmes, which seek to prevent crime and encourage reconnection for our whānau.”
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said there was “no single silver bullet solution’ to crime. Alcohol was however a big driver of a lot of the disorder and assaults, Goff said, which is why the council is trying to bring off-licences forward from 11pm-9pm but the change is currently tied up in a legal battle before the courts.
Licenceing inspectors target on and off-licence businesses which frequently come to the attention of police to ensure licences aren’t renewed.
He said council works closely with police on crime prevention and city cameras are used to help monitor “where trouble is brewing” and direct police resources when needed.
Planners were also more aware of the need to factor in environmental design into new projects that helps prevent crime, like having more lighting and safer spaces instead of dark walkways.
On a broader scale, Goff said more needed to be done on firearms control to prevent guns from getting into the hands of criminals.
He believed the recent arrival of 501 deportees from Australia hasn’t helped Auckland’s crime levels.
“I would love the Australians to get real and stop dumping their problems on us – that would be really good but I don’t see any change in Australian attitude.”
Heart of the City
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said there needs to be investment in a robust and safe nightlife to help the city’s economy recover from Covid-19.
She suggests having a greater police presence, better lighting and transport options for city-goers making their way home to create a sense of safety.
“Now is the time to support a safe night time economy … We think closing down [licenced premises] early is a knee-jerk reaction.”
She is calling for cross Government agencies to brainstorm and work together on how to make it safer, but says boosting police resources in the area is a good start.
“We do see a strong police presence as an immediate action … to bolster a feeling of safety.”
Beck also wants to see more mental health and addiction services to be made available.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said despite the new challenges that have come with Covid and an increasing demand, especially around family harm jobs, police remain focused on doing their best to keep people safe.
“The first and most important part from a policing perspective is going after those who are bringing misery into our communities, whether it’s in terms of drugs or violence. We have never been more active than we are now in terms of tackling drug dealing, responding assertively to violence where it’s used, restraining criminal assets and all of the stats will tell that story.”
He said police were also working with other agencies and community leaders understand the drivers for the crime that is being committed.
“As long as there are drugs in our community then we will have drug dealers, as long as we have a stream of young men who see gangs as the best way forward for them then we will have gangs. We are working hard with others to make sure we are looking at that.”
He said Operation Tauwhiro, launched earlier this year to target the disruption and prevention of firearms-related violence by gangs and organised criminals, has had good results.
“What we have seen and anecdotally what we are heading is offenders are feeling that pressure.”
Coster said resourcing was important and 80 new recruits were starting police college every month so the number of staff continues to grow.
He was aware of some areas where there had been an increase in crime, like Auckland’s CBD where assaults have risen sharply post lockdown, and said decisions on how best to deploy staff to manage those hotspots were continually being assessed.
“Police will keep doing what we have always done which is working our absolute hardest to keep our community safe.”
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