Police Minister Ginny Andersen isn’t taking legislative change off the table as the Government attempts to stem rising violent crime, particularly offences committed by young people.
Both Andersen and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins have been clear in recent days that more could be done to address crime, which is fast becoming a key issue ahead of the general election in October amid reports of businesses closing and owners fearing death, while Opposition parties demand stronger penalties for offenders.
This Government’s response to the increasing numbers of ram raids and aggravated burglaries last year largely consisted of two programmes providing security measures to small business owners and expanding multi-agency efforts to identify young offenders within 24 hours of the offence in areas like Auckland and Hamilton.
Speaking to the Herald, Andersen indicated she may be considering tweaking the law to ensure it was meeting the need.
“Look, it’s always important to look at if the laws are working properly and making sure that we’ve got those settings right,” she said.
“Post-Covid, we have seen that hardcore group of repeat offenders that are quite young.
“So I think it’s important that we make sure that we’ve got all those settings right to not only keep our community safe, but make sure that the laws [are] acting in the right way.
“That’s as much as I’ll say, but I’m taking a really good look at the change in the landscape post-Covid and making sure we’ve got those settings right.”
The two programmes targeting young offenders included Kotahi te Whakaaro, which combined members from police, Oranga Tamariki, the health and education sectors, Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development, local non-government agencies and iwi to review cases of those aged between 14-17 caught in the preceding 24 hours.
The other was an early intervention programme, dubbed the “circuit-breaker”, for children aged 10-13 and which operated in a similar way to Kotahi te Whakaaro.
In Budget 2023, the circuit-breaker programme was expanded into Auckland City, Hamilton and Christchurch after being piloted in South Auckland.
By the end of March, 82 per cent of the 147 children referred to Kotahi te Whakaaro had not reoffended. For the circuit-breaker programme, 67 of the 84 children referred had not been re-referred.
Andersen said further expansion of the circuit-breaker programme would be “good”, but it was unlikely Kotahi te Whakaaro would be expanded as well.
“I don’t have the budget for that now, but I’m always advocating for what more we can do.
“I constantly have conversations with the Prime Minister and we’re always looking at new options.”
To indicate the complexity of addressing youth crime, Andersen referenced a 13-year-old boy who was found with a broken leg after participating in a ram raid.
According to Andersen, the house he was living in was infested with cockroaches, he and his siblings weren’t attending school, his mother was struggling with mental health issues and the children were largely going without clothes and food.
Andersen said it took eight attempts by police, social workers and iwi representatives to make meaningful contact with the family, at which point the father broke down in tears.
“[The father] was just in a state of absolute despair but through [those attempts], they got a door open.”
She considered programmes intervening when children were young as essential, with evidence indicating older children often acted as the “ringleader” for others who would learn criminal behaviour if they weren’t set on a different path.
It appeared likely that any further resources would be directed at diverting offenders away from crime as opposed to adding to the support for victims of retail crime, although Andersen did not rule out the latter.
“When I visit businesses that have been victims of ram raids, I see the harm and I see that people are scared and angry.
“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to get on top of the problem now, but I feel I have a real responsibility to make sure that we’re doing that long-term work to make sure that we’re not just delaying the next generation.”
The police’s retail crime prevention programme had fitted 295 small businesses with a variety of security measures, with a further 262 having had quotes approved, as at May 17.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s fog cannon subsidy scheme had installed 582 cannons across the country, with another 436 in progress or booked in.