Opinion: Mark Knoff-Thomas on spiralling crimewave

A year ago I wrote an opinion piece in NEWMARKET. magazine about the challenges we were facing with an emerging “COVID crime-wave”. At that time, here in Newmarket, we were starting to get a sense that general anti-social behaviour was on an upward trajectory, retail theft was increasing and we’d noticed an upsurge in threatening behaviour. It is easy to shy away from publicity about crime. No one likes their dirty laundry being aired in public. However, what has come to light is that New Zealand is facing 2 pandemics – one is COVID, and the other is crime. All the stops have been pulled out to focus on COVID, but apparently not much at all has been done to even acknowledge crime is an issue.

Due to COVID lockdowns last year we saw a significant influx of emergency housing tenants arrive into various motels along Great South Road. Many town centres across the city and country experienced similar. I must add, I strongly supported this response by government as it was absolutely necessary to keep people safe and off the streets. It also threw a financial lifeline to moteliers who otherwise would have had zero business.

In recent months you may have seen media reports about crime issues in Auckland central, and from around the country including: Wellington, Napier, Christchurch and the Bay of Islands amongst other places. The NZ Herald is running a series of stories on crime and how the outlook is not very positive – especially in our main town centres.  

Well, since my original OPED last year I’m sad to report things have worsened. A major issue we are facing is that so much crime goes unreported. I don’t know how many of you have called 111 to report crime, but it can be quite a process and hard to do on the run, or if someone menacing is standing right in front of you. The relatively new “105 Police Non-Emergency” report form online is great – and also a way to ensure all crime is captured – even after the event. (I urge everyone to report everything – otherwise its not on the radar.)

Do not get me wrong, our Police, the few we have, do a superb job, but they are being run ragged. They lurch from one major crime in action to the next – with no additional backup to deal with the smaller stuff. And by “smaller stuff” it could mean – a retailer locking themselves and customers inside their store to keep safe from an unpredictable personality on the street, someone randomly walking into a store and punching a retail assistant in the face, or a group of youths threatening retailers, someone defecating on a busy footpath in broad daylight, or a gang brazenly robbing a store with armfuls of clothing in the mid-afternoon, or a brawl breaking out in the street after school. This is not cool New Zealand.

We absolutely need to deal with root causes of our societal issues and take a long term view. I’m quite sure some of the good work being done around mental health services, will pay dividends in the years ahead. But we also need an immediate bandaid solution to make our streets safe. For the life of me I do not understand the ideology behind what the Police ministry is currently doing.

Some suggestions, for what it’s worth:

  1. An holistic approach across multiple government agencies working cohesively
  2. A significant boost in front line uniformed police officers to help ease the pressure
  3. Wrap around mental health services to support those being rehoused who need care and attention
  4. Development of the next steps for emergency housing. We just can’t leave people in motels forever. What is the plan?

I want to assure you, standing shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues from other business associations, we are all doing our utmost to keep our streets safe. But at the end of the day we all have finite resources. We are not the Police, and we are not security companies. We are all happy to play our part in town centre management. Many of us fund CCTV, street patrols, StoreWatch intel-sharing, graffiti removal etc, but we need national institutions who are legislated to maintain law and order to be able to do so. What is happening across New Zealand right now is a slow degradation of our way of life. Whether you’re politically left, right or centre, every New Zealander should be able to enjoy a basic level of safety.

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