Editorial: Police know what to do with rising crime rates in Kaitaia

By Peter Jackson

The crime spike in Kaitaia is not unprecedented, says Peter Jackson.
The crime spike in Kaitaia is not unprecedented, says Peter Jackson.

The good news is that the spike in criminal offending now under way in Kaitaia is not unprecedented. It will pass. Nor is it unique to Kaitaia. No great consolation, perhaps, but more heartening was the response of the more than 200 people who attended a public meeting called by the police.

They might not have heard exactly what they were hoping for, but they understood the issues, and had some sensible suggestions to make.

As is often the case with such meetings, the police were preaching to the converted though. Those who fronted up were good people who are not part of the problem. Those who are committing the crime, or whose families are committing the crime, weren't there. (It was noted by one speaker that women far outnumbered men, but that wasn't unusual either).

So what to do? The suggestions ranged from mounting community patrols to improving street lighting. Those who live outside the area currently covered by security cameras were also told that they could mount cameras of their own, if they so wished.

That might well appeal to some. But the best response came from those who suggested that the town needed to adopt a basic set of standards, and refuse to accept anything less.

David Senior said the problem began with the way some people conduct themselves in public, from swearing to the point of fighting. The good people of Kaitaia should make it very clear that they do not accept that, he said.

Many citizens would probably shy away from confronting the offenders, but it need not come to that. Simply making it known that swearing in public places does not sit well with the majority could perhaps start a much more positive ball rolling.

The suggestion of community patrols was an obvious one, and, as always, has merit. One local man is already patrolling at night off his own bat, not, he said, with the idea of apprehending anyone, but simply to let those who prowl the streets at night know that they have been seen.

That is a tactic long espoused by one of Kaitaia's longest-serving police officers, who believes in the power of depriving those who are out and about when they have no reasonable business being there of the anonymity that they rely upon should they decide to get up to no good.

The problem with community patrols is they start with a hiss and a roar then inevitably peter out. They have been organised on numerous occasions, invariably after a particularly egregious incident, and do not last. Patrols would be a good idea if they can be sustained, but history suggests they never will be.

"What really has to change in Kaitaia is not the police rosters but the town's acceptance of criminal behaviour, and its probable belief that only the police can do anything about reducing it."
Peter Jackson

In any event, the security camera network effectively does the job that patrols would do, providing they are monitored. The fact that much of Kaitaia is now being watched day and night seems to have sunk in, if the police are right when they say that commercial burglaries within the monitored area have declined spectacularly.

They also claim that at least two aggravated robberies have been prevented by the fact that the would-be robbers were spotted, the intended victim was warned and patrols were despatched to intercept them.

That is only part of the solution though. This current spike in offending, much of it involving residential burglaries, the taking of and breaking into cars, is not restricted to the hours of darkness.

Much of it is taking place in broad daylight, as was the case on a recent Saturday when two cars were taken from outside business premises, one of them crashing into a stationary vehicle, severely injuring the occupant, literally minutes later.

It seems likely that security cameras will help produce convictions for those offences, which might have some deterrent effect, but some people in Kaitaia are clearly not fast learners. In any event, the goal must be to persuade people that stealing cars is wrong, above and beyond the likelihood that they will be caught.

Meanwhile it is becoming apparent that the promise of six more police officers for Kaitaia is widely regarded as the answer. Senior Sergeant Geoff Ryan warned the public meeting that those reinforcements would not be a panacea, and he's right.

A good deal of crime is committed when police are on duty, as opposed to the brief early morning hours window when the station is not literally manned (although officers are always on call and available if needed), and it is doubtful that 24/7 rosters will make much difference. We can't even be sure that the extra officers will make 24-7 rosters possible.

Extra police will always be welcome in Kaitaia, especially if they improve the capacity to investigate serious crime. The more the merrier. But unless numbers are augmented far beyond all probability, additional staff, and certainly the presence of six more, likely to be brand new graduates rather than street-hardened veterans, should not be expected to change much. Anyone who expects otherwise is doomed to disappointment.

What really has to change in Kaitaia is not the police rosters but the town's acceptance of criminal behaviour, and its probable belief that only the police can do anything about reducing it.

That is not to say that the police could not be more effective than they currently are, but that is likely to be less about boosting numbers than encouraging people to provide them with the information they need to protect the community and to apprehend those who offend.

The point was made very clearly by Acting Senior Sergeant Sarah Wihongi that ranting on Facebook might make a victim feel better, but the major effect of that was to make others feel unsafe, without necessarily improving the chances of an arrest.

Every scrap of information the public can provide should go to the police. That obligation applies not only to victims, but more pertinently to those who know who is doing what.

Kaitaia is hardly in a class of its own, but it would help if the town's law-abiding people got over their innate inclination not to 'nark', and to protect people they know. Whether the offender be a stranger, a neighbour or family member, the police need to know what they are doing/have done.

There have been several instances of late where people in the Far North have delivered members of their own families to the police so they can be held accountable for their actions, and dealt with in a manner that they obviously hope will encourage them to change their ways. That attitude has to become much more prevalent.

The law-abiding must accept that they have a direct responsibility for helping to police their community, and expecting the police to display psychic powers isn't working.
One of those who spoke at Kaitaia's public meeting expressed it beautifully.

The best extra cops, she said, would be "Mum and Dad in the home". Bang on. If every parent in Kaitaia knew where their children were and what they were doing 24/7, and took the appropriate action to curb any bad behaviour, the town wouldn't need extra police officers. It probably wouldn't need all it has now.

At the end of the day, solving the crime problem in any town is in the hands of the residents. Police and people together can be an extraordinarily powerful force. The best the police alone can do is to put a lid on it. And as Kaitaia knows, lids are made to come off.

- Northland Age

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