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Indian community disappointed by government’s quarterly action plan on crime

2:10 pm on 7 April 2024
Police officers outside the New Windsor Dairy in Auckland on 5 October 2023.

Police officers stand outside a dairy in Auckland's New Windsor neighbourhood in October 2023 after a couple were stabbed in their own shop. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Business associations, retailers and leaders from the Indian community have expressed disappointment at the latest quarterly targets on crime unveiled by the government this week.

The dismay follows mixed reaction to the 100-day plan the ruling coalition unveiled in December.

In February, businesses called on the government to create a dedicated police task force on retail crime at a community meeting.

Participants also called for the establishment of an independent autonomous body to advocate on behalf of the community and retailers.

Sunny Kaushal, chair of the Dairy and Business Owners Group and organiser of the February meeting, said the demands were necessitated by a "distressing and continuing spate" of violent retail crime and aggravated robberies.

"We are angry, as a change in government hasn't resulted in retail crime statistics trending towards zero," Kushal said at the time.

The latest quarterly action plan hasn't convinced community leaders, with one describing the content as "disheartening and disappointing".

"In New Zealand, we have almost 400-plus retail crimes every day," said Jithin Chittibomma, chairperson of the Sandringham Business Association in Auckland. "About a quarter of those are towards the Indian community, which is something to be ashamed of. That's why there is so much disappointment within the Indian community."

"There has been no feedback from the government on our demands submitted in February," Chittibomma said. "Even in this week's announcement, there is nothing concrete addressing our concerns.

"The Indian community is continuously being traumatized time after time. It feels like we don't matter. It is very disheartening and disappointing."

In setting out its priorities through 30 June, the government has pledged to "take decisions on establishing a youth serious offender category and making youth military academies a standalone sentencing option for the Youth Court".

It would also take decisions on restoring Three Strikes, Luxon told reporters when announcing the plan.

In March, Children's Minister Karen Chhour revealed that the first of the boot camps promised by the ruling coalition would be operational by the middle of the year.

Legislation to scrap funding for Section 27 cultural sentencing reports was also passed under urgency last month.

Jaspreet Kandhari, general secretary of the New Zealand Indian Business Association, who also attended the meeting in February, didn't think the latest quarterly plan went far enough.

"The persistence of violent retail crime despite four months passing since the government's inauguration is deeply concerning," Kandhari said. "The pace of progress is unsatisfactory, and there's a growing urgency for immediate and effective measures to ensure the safety and security of businesses and communities.

"We need increased law enforcement deployment in high-risk areas. We need enhanced collaboration between law enforcement agencies and local businesses."

Himanshu Parmar, who stood for ACT in the 2023 election, said the plan ignored one of the key demands made at the community meeting in February.

"There is no commitment towards setting up an autonomous body that can work closely with the government and can keep it accountable in a meaningful way, which is disappointing," Parmar said. "There clearly is a need for one to keep a close eye on the government's work in this space. Since coming into power, it has started other bodies to look at various matters, so why not this one?

"Also, no comments or concrete commitments have been made in regard to more investment in youth justice facilities, which are grossly under-resourced."

Parmar criticised the government's lack of commitment towards victims of crime.

The coalition deal between National and ACT in November promised to "give priority to the needs of victims and communities over offenders".

"We need a commitment from the government towards better resources for victims of crime," Parmar said. "This was campaigned heavily by all the three parties but nothing since the election has been announced in this space."

Businessman Navtej Randhawa, who stood for National in the 2023 election, sought to assure the community the government was taking violent retail crime seriously.

"Fellow retailers like myself are facing increasing rates of crime, putting both our employees and the public at risk, as well as threatening the financial sustainability of retail businesses," Randhawa said. "Taking this seriously, the government has taken several steps to address violent retail crime."

"The new young offender military academies being initiated by the government will bring change. The government is working towards adequately resourcing police to deal with retail crime, and to unclog the court system so that offenders are dealt with promptly."

Randhawa agreed with Parmar, Kandhari and Chittibomma that a greater police presence was needed in some areas, although it wasn't going to reduce violent retail crime on its own.

"We do need a dedicated task force to investigate and apprehend violent retail offenders," Randhawa said.

"We also need increased support for victims of violent retail crime in terms of counselling and other services," he added.

"There must be improved collaboration between businesses and law enforcement, he said.

"Finally, we must invest in better data collection and analysis, to track trends in violent retail crime and measure the effectiveness of crime prevention strategies."

The 2023 National Party candidate said tackling violent retail crime was a complex issue and the effectiveness of such initiatives would take time.

"Ongoing discussions with the community to find ways to address the issue is the best approach, which the current government is committed to doing," he said.

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