Records Breaking While Rome Burns

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

April 2022

Back in August 2020 I wrote of a COVID crime-wave that seemed to be sweeping its way across Auckland, I said “What is happening across New Zealand right now is a slow degradation of our way of life”, and my goodness, how sad I am that this is still the case. A year later, in 2021, I did a follow up piece on how things had worsened. Then in August last year, Newmarket, along with Heart of the City, Parnell, Ponsonby, Karangahape Road and Uptown penned an open letter to the Prime Minister, asking for help, as our requests for assistance from the Minister of Police were not getting any traction.   In November 2021 I took part in a press conference in Mt Eden, with our local MP highlighting the issues of ram raids and smash and grabs, and the dire impact they are having on retail. In February this year I attended the official opening on the Newmarket Police Station in Teed Street, and in my speech mentioned, in front of Minister Poto Williams, the jarring challenges retailers were increasingly facing with anti-social behaviour and theft – every single day. I’m pleased to note that following extensive lobbying from Retail NZ, and others, the Police have launched a Retail Crimes Unit. This unit will be busy from the get-go and will need to be incredibly well resourced and come out swinging to get on top of the apparently, out of control situation that is currently happening across Auckland, and many parts of the country.

Two of Newmarket’s new luxury stores had smash and grabs earlier this year, then we had the ram raids in Queen Street, further smash and grabs in Newmarket, and now the most brazen of all, kids driving cars through shops in a mall. And all of this is against the backdrop of our regular daily retail theft. My inbox is flooded with images every day of the faces of people caught in the act of stealing. We share intel with other areas and can very quickly give retailers a heads up that known thief “X” is operating in the area today. The police know these people - they have files inches thick. Frustratingly, the consequences of getting caught just aren’t enough of a deterrent. If the perpetrators are underage, they may get referred to child services. I’m sure there are many well-meaning people working inside these organisations doing their best to make a difference, but it must feel like they are pushing the proverbial up hill. The system is broken. We keep doing the same things and are surprised that the results don’t improve. But often these young people, who have seemingly fallen through the cracks, have no support from home. Home is broken, they are sadly statistics in waiting. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking it’s only the under-privileged who are problematic. There are “well to do” kids wandering around with knives, harassing, and intimidating members of the public, business owners and innocent bystanders. What cracks have they fallen through?

If thieves are caught as adults they also go through the system, but you can bet your “brand new Gucci trainers” on Trade Me that they will be back at it in no time. We need root cause solutions. We need robust interventions. We need to get all of these people, youth and adult alike, on a different trajectory. Have we become so devoid of hope, ambition, and prosperity, that the easiest way through life is to simply steal, then flick it off? Do people just expect to be given things and not have to work for them? New Zealand was built on hard work. But hard work doesn’t stop, it can’t stop, for once it does our society collapses. And sure, theft is not a recent invention, but boy oh boy it’s out of whack at the moment.    When I first started in this role in Newmarket in 2014, we had a spate of ram raids in the run up to Christmas. In those days the items being targeted were strictly streetwear – hoodies/ jackets/ sweatshirts and sneakers. Over the years the tastes seem to have changed and are now firmly focused on the luxury end of the market.

For bureaucratic reasons-unknown, Auckland Transport puts up plenty of roadblocks, pun intended, for businesses to have bollards installed across their frontages. We have to face some harsh realities, that our criminal elements will stop at nothing to get what they want. So let’s work on some long-term root cause solutions, and also some immediate quick fixes. AT can make this happen very quickly.

When I reflect on crime over the past few years. I do find myself wondering what on earth the Minister of Police actually thinks is going on. She is looking increasingly out of her depth.

New records seem to be broken every week, but not the records we want to be celebrating. In a nutshell, things have worsened. We need some frank conversations at the highest levels of government, and councils, community groups and within wider family groups. Minister Williams could lead this charge and start an honest conversation with New Zealand. Nobody wants to hang their dirty laundry out for all to see, but the cost of doing nothing is pretty ugly. If we don’t fix these issues, if we don’t address root causes, if we don’t provide lasting interventions, this country is destined for a future where car jackings, armed muggings and shootings are a daily thing. Building gated communities, with metal detecting scanners on building entries, armed police walking the streets with Kalashnikovs is something we might see overseas, but is that really how we want this country to be?

Just to be clear, this is not about political point scoring. This is about our communities feeling safe in the streets and business owners not having to live in fear of being targeted, putting their livelihoods at stake. You know, the sort of basic stuff a well-functioning civilised society expects. Sadly, we are fast moving away from being one of those.

Mark Knoff-Thomas