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COVID Crime Wave

For most of us 2020 has been the most challenging of years in so many ways. We’ve heard “new normal”, “next normal” and many other iterations of the concept, the world as we knew it, has fundamentally changed. Being in lockdown, which was unimaginable pre-COVID, is something we’ve all just had to accept and adjust to. For the most part, we’ve done a pretty decent job of it – but only history will decide whether our government took the right course of action.

While we continue to do well in crushing the curve, the upsurge in crime over this period is a significant cause for concern for me, and I’m sure for many of my colleagues who run town centres around the country. We’ve seen spikes in petty crime, theft, violence and general undesirable behaviour. The police are stretched and constantly re- prioritising what to focus their resources on. Something considered to be high alert today, may, when compared to what’s going on at the time, not be critical tomorrow. 60 new officers are sworn in a month to operate on our frontlines. But we still desperately need more in our communities.

The police are required to work pan- government as a lot of these challenges come down to the surprising disconnect between various central and local government agencies. For reasons beyond my comprehension, it seems these agencies are not able to work collaboratively to deliver actual solutions.

Most retailers will know all too well, the issue with constantly simmering theft – some having to grapple with it on a daily basis. Stories of products being stolen to order and “gangs” sweeping through shopping streets collecting their loot are far too regular. This needs to be nipped in the bud – hard and fast. Without a commitment to quashing the situation, it will continue to fester and grow.

Walking down some of New Zealand’s most iconic main streets is no longer what it once was. Rough sleeping and begging have become a regular sight, and not just in our main centres. These days, this activity extends far beyond central city areas. Whilst these issues are complex and intersected with other social issues – like mental health challenges and addiction – I don’t know a single New Zealander that would wish this upon fellow community members.

Despite being a modern Western democracy, we‘re consistently failing the most vulnerable in our society. Rather than seeing improvement, it just gets incrementally worse year on year. Street communities are our community, but where is their support? Whenever you tune into the news, you often hear politicians quoting statistics about how the issues have got better – but this is not reflected in our personal experiences at the heart of the community. The missing piece is actual, demonstrable improvements. We just don’t see them.

While some will write this off because these agencies supposedly work together, I have to seriously challenge that. After recently reaching out to several government agencies expressing my concerns on behalf of businesses, the only follow-up I had was from the police.

I applaud the NZ Police – they do a remarkable job, and in very challenging conditions. It’s unfortunate that they get lumped with covering the responsibilities that are abdicated by other agencies. This needs significant improvement. In my opinion this should be a core election issue.

Mark Knoff-Thomas
CEO, Newmarket Business Association

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