Kaikohe becoming increasingly lawless
It was hailed by police as a new, more effective means of maintaining law and order in the Mid North, but the 'flying squad' system isn't working according to the communities it is supposed to be serving.
They say Kawakawa and Kaikohe in particular are increasingly lawless, and the criminals are getting younger - and bolder.
Tony Taylor, who heads Kaikohe's local community patrol and founded the town's crimefighting Facebook page, said his community was at the mercy of marauding youth gangs who knew when no police were around.
"It's getting out of control," he said.
"You're getting big groups of youths walking around, 13 to 15-year-olds, and the classic example, we had two liquor stores hit last weekend, groups of 15 youths running in and just grabbing what they wanted and getting out and assaulting the shopkeepers while they're doing it." (Six arrests after youths raid stores, Northland Age, June 23.)
Kawakawa isn't happy either. Business association chairman Richard Duley said his local police station was down to one officer and two patrol cars, which arrived daily and cruised local highways.
"People are reporting less serious crime, shoplifting, burglaries, and getting no response whatsoever. Even when they've rung 111 there's been no response," he said.
The reorganisation of staff and stations in the Mid North in February was supposed to get more officers out from behind their desks and on to the streets, but that wasn't happening. Kaikohe Business Association president Steve Sangster said the police station was prominent in the town's main drag, but the occupants were not.
"The crime seems to have picked up, and we are concerned that a lot of the time there's no police presence in the town at all," he said.
"It's obvious that at times they can be stretched with one or more serious incidents elsewhere, and they have to deploy staff, but it appears the number of staff deployed here is well below par."
Some Kaikohe businesspeople were thinking about closing rather than trying to meet new safety standards for staff, in a town where security was unreliable, he added.
District Commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou said there had been no reduction in police numbers in Kawakawa. The sergeant overseeing Kawakawa was based elsewhere, but a senior sergeant worked from the police station, along with the road team of four officers, while the presence of patrol cars in the area was in itself a deterrent to would-be criminals, and the changes had made police more able to meet demands across the Far North.
"Gone are the days that our officers sit in a police station and wait for emergency calls," he said.
"With our mobility devices and our iPhones and the like, we expect our staff to be out and about, deploying in their vehicles, being visible, looking for prevention opportunities."
Malcolm Francis, who runs a hardware store in Kawakawa, said it was the criminals who were seizing opportunities, however, citing a recent knifepoint robbery of the BP station in Moerewa.
"No one came from the police at the time. They said they had other things they were doing, but armed robbery? You'd think everyone should have turned out for that."
The robbery had happened at 8pm, he added, the first police arriving at 9.30pm, by which time the victim had had to lock up and go home.
Mr Francis was later told that all available police had been at a fatal crash.
Meanwhile, Northland MP Winston Peters is claiming that the thin blue line in the North is not so much thin as emaciated. Police had had no funding increase since 2009, and were being forced to publicly defend an indefensible lack of resources, while budding criminals get bolder by the day.
The Government's claim that the crime rate had fallen by 16 per cent was demonstrably false, he said, the statistics showing that police were attending more incidents but charging fewer people.
"They are letting people off with warnings to keep the crime figures down, and that's because of political pressure," he said.
He himself had been accosted by a teenager in Kaitaia, asking for cash.
"I got stopped on the street by a kid in a school uniform asking if I had any money," he said. "That's the sort of attitude we've got building up, and it's not doing our province any good whatsoever."
Mr Taylor accepted that a lot of police effort had been focused on Kaitaia this year, a natural response to a series of major offences including a murder, a suspected murder, a shooting and this month's record meth bust, and police responses had to be prioritised, but even the officers who were striving to serve their communities under the new regime did not believe it was working.
Kaikohe was leading the way as a proactive community that was working hard to support the police, and had been achieving good results, but the police themselves were now frustrated by a structure that they did not believe was working.
"They need more police on the ground, and they want to see stations like Kaikohe, Kawakawa and Kaitaia manned 24/7," he said. "That's probably not going to happen, but the resources the police do have here need to be managed much more effectively than they are at the moment."
Kaikohe would continue pushing for a law change to deal with offenders and more police on the streets. "People are fed up totally, and will not stand for the government sitting back and doing nothing."