A new partnership between AVOCO and Katikati's Community Patrol group is giving police more eyes and ears in the town's outlying areas to prevent crime and catch would-be fruit thieves in the act.
AVOCO, New Zealand's largest avocado export supply group, is contributing $200 a month for the next year to help pay for the group's petrol costs under a new sponsorship deal. It follows a fresh wave of activity around orchards where growers' fruit has been targeted by thieves.
Since July, offenders have become increasingly brash in their attempts to steal avocados by attempting to raid growers' trees both day and night.
Katikati Community Patrol chairperson/coordinator Shirley Vincent says the sponsorship allows the group, known as the Night Owls, to extend their coverage area and have greater visibility in rural areas north and south of the township, including Kauri Point and Walker Road East and West.
"The money is greatly appreciated by our group because it helps to keep our vehicle on the road to patrol areas where police have received reports of suspicious activity. Avocado growers have been targeted recently so this commitment from AVOCO allows us to keep an eye on more orchards and hopefully, prevent crime before it happens."
The Katikati Night Owls is one of nine community patrols operating throughout the greater Tauranga area. They rely on fundraising, grants and sponsorship to fund their activity which is all carried out by volunteers.
"This new sponsorship helps take some of the financial pressure off our group which can only spend so much time fundraising to cover our operational costs. We'd much rather be out there doing what we do best, which is looking after our community."
It can cost up to $5000 a year to run one patrol, covering expenses like equipment, vehicle maintenance, insurance and petrol.
The group operates as the police's eyes and ears, making note of any suspicious activity on their patrols and recording registration numbers of vehicles in strange places or down side roads.
Volunteers always go out in pairs and mostly at night, but will patrol during the day if requested by police.
"We don't have a set pattern otherwise the crims would get to know where we'll be," says Shirley.
Cameras fitted to the front and back of their vehicle records all their patrol activity, with written reports also prepared and given to police. Shirley says after nearly 20 years of patrolling, she had become "extremely suspicious of everything" and knew that even if they weren't finding crooks in the act, they were helping to prevent crime from happening.
"We don't know how much crime we stop but anecdotally, we know the criminals are put off by our patrols so we know we're making a difference."
AVOCO director Alistair Young says the Night Owls performed a vital role.
"We're very happy to support the work that they do which benefits not just our growers but the whole Katikati community."