Opinion: Safety Pays

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Thursday 27th June, 2024 by Mark Knoff-Thomas.

I have had some time to reflect on the journey we have been on with crime and safety over the past two years. I think it’s important to take stock and remind ourselves of some of the challenges thrown at us, and how we’ve have to be agile and come up with solutions on the fly.

For many years the Newmarket Business Association (NBA) engaged a third party to provide security services for the town centre, and operate our modest CCTV network. The needs were simple with only one street guard and a part time CCTV operator. Although the security function was always busy, it was manageable. The key relationship was between the NBA and the third party security company. The relationship with Police was positive but not overly proactive, and other security providers weren’t engaged in a meaningful way. Then in the early 2020’s, as we all know, crime was changing and starting to spike. What we were doing needed to change to get better results. Public safety was an increasing concern, and the Police were stretched due to COVID related projects.

Following those initial stages of COVID and the ensuing lockdowns a real change had occurred in many town centres, including the Newmarket  precinct. We noticed crime was starting to increase drastically. Random acts of violence were occurring towards retail workers, there were increases in extreme anti-social behaviour, shoplifting, and other incidents. We upped the efforts with our advocacy.

At the NBA’s AGM in 2022, the Board and I pitched to our members, that if we increased the targeted rate they pay to fund us, we could bring the security function in-house. This was voted on, and unanimously supported. The plan was to establish a new security initiative from 1 July 2023 when the new financial year would begin, using the increased targeted rate.

In late 2022 following the AGM, and in light of the fast-evolving crime situation I presented a business case to the Board. The premise was to bring forward the security initiative and not wait until 1 July 2023. The assistance needed from government resources wasn’t forthcoming to the extent that was needed to help with our crime and safety issues. Reputational risk was a real factor taken into consideration. After a robust discussion the Board approved the business case. The security initiative was unbudgeted, funds had to be reallocated.  Fast forward to 1 February 2023, and Newmarket Security made its debut on the streets of the precinct. The security model was upgraded, with strengthened relationships with key security stakeholders, and a vastly improved relationship with Police.

Safety and Newmarket Security's old model

Newmarket’s old security model

The crime challenges being faced by town centres across New Zealand have been unprecedented - ram raids, extreme anti-social behaviour, smash and grabs and general retail theft have become all too common. By launching our own in-house precinct patrol services and radically increasing the size of the security team, we were able to provide a team of Mobile Patrol Officers (MPOs) operating under the name NEWMARKET SECURITY - protecting the precinct 7 days a week.

As part of this initiative, we established a new Communications Hub located within the Newmarket Police Station. The hub was central to a new $300k CCTV camera network upgrade, managed by Safer Cities and vGrid, that included Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras around the perimeter of the precinct. These clever cameras provide instant notification of stolen vehicles entering or exiting the precinct, with alerts being sent to the MPOs mobile phones in real time. Plus the addition of a “Super View” rooftop camera that can sweep across the precinct, gives us visuals that we have never had before. We also worked with Auror to pilot town centre licensing for the team. Giving the MPOs access to our own live database of offenders, shared directly with NZ Police. The MPOs also have Auror on their mobile phones, so can add and seek offender information on the go.

The new security model.

The network is integrated - intel is being shared in real time, making it harder for offenders to operate in the precinct.

How the security system works for an end-user.

Other technology tools that have been a game changer, include Motorola body cameras and radios. The footage of the body cams can be loaded against a police file number. Since Starting NEWMARKET SECURITY in February 2023, we have grown the team to 5 full time employees.

So has this sizeable investment been worthwhile? 100%. The success of the initiative comes down to the high calibre of the security professionals we have been able to hire. They are NEWMARKET SECURITY

The full Newmarket Security Team.

April 2024 recorded 10% fewer incidents than the same month in 2023, and May was even better with 17% fewer incidents.

We recently conducted a survey to get feedback from our Newmarket stakeholders with regards to their knowledge of, and their perceived effectiveness, of our Newmarket Security initiative. A 94% satisfaction rating for the service, and 98% think Newmarket is safer because of the team.

It’s not to say crime won’t fluctuate, but this intervention has gone a long way to make our town centre, our community, safer.

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