A few days back I saw a TV3 news item about a young woman whose car had been broken into in an underground Wellington carpark. Her stereo was stolen. She went to the Police, but they showed little interest. The owners of the carpark said they intended improving the lighting in the hope that brighter light would deter thieves. Another story, a few nights later, talked of a Wellington epidemic of break-ins of parked taxis by young hoods in need of money to feed their addiction to "spacies" at internet cafes. Again, there seemed to be no special Police effort to counter this.
What heightened my interest is that Auckland has the same problems. A friend recently parked his late-model car at a popular shopping mall and went to the supermarket. It was 10am on a sunny morning. He was away for forty minutes. When he returned, the driver's window had been smashed with a heavy implement and an expensive piece of electronic equipment gone. He reported the break-in to the Police, along with news that the mall's security camera had picked up two guys approaching, then retreating from the car. One week later, without having checked the security cameras, the Police wrote back saying that the file had been assessed and "unfortunately, it didn't contain any known suspects or positive leads". Surely someone should have checked the security camera before writing this? In fact, no one had been near it. The Police message to young thieves seems to be that car theft is free of consequences, since it won't be followed up. What that means is that the current epidemic of break-ins will become a plague, even a pandemic.
Just after these bits of news I read that the Police plan to direct extra resources into road safety, rather than breaking and entering, and expect to issue 30% more infringement notices this year . I was surprised because although there are now more than double the number of vehicles on the road compared with thirty years ago, the total killed each year in road accidents is down 30% on thirty years ago. These are staggering statistics. Theysuggest that our roads are much safer now. Yet the Police are putting extra resources into an area where there is less of a problem, and ignoring an explosion of petty crime that balloons before our eyes.
Don't get me wrong. By world standards New Zealand has a corruption-free Police force that performs many of its functions extremely well. Serious crimes like murder and rape are handled very professionally, and the growing number of convictions using DNA evidence is impressive. Some of the drug hauls of recent times suggest our Police do classy detective work, too. ButI question Police priorities when resources are put into cracking a problemthat has been cracked, while ignoring a threatened epidemic. In fact, many cases of theft from cars aren't reported because the public knows through bitter experience that nothing useful will result.
As the New York Police have amply shown with what they call their "broken windows" policy, a concerted crackdown on petty criminals has a flow-on effect into many other areas of criminal activity. More work put into apprehending breaking and entering deters young crims in the making. It often produces evidence that is likely to help solve other crimes. Keeping an eye on "spacie" centres can provide useful leads, too. I know we'll end up with further evidence of delinquent parents with no interest in where their young teenagers are, day or night, and who do nothing when confronted with evidence their children are wagging school. Nothing useful can be done about truancy until they are confronted and held responsible. Many warnings, and a few prosecutions, would do no harm, and probably some good.
Police prioritising is a matter of concern to everyone. If time is being wasted on traffic infringements due to the Police need for the revenue it produces, while crimes which affect the average person are ignored because the Government is too mean with its budget allocations, then someone should tell us. As it is, people are left feeling that Police priorities are misplaced. That's serious. One of the fundamentals of any decent society is confidence in law and order. New Zealanders are losing that sense of certainty. Prosecuting endless petty traffic infringements can irritate, whereas progress on "broken windows" would do wonders for public confidence, and lift the Police's as well.