2 Apr 2014

Northland crime rise attributed to poverty

7:35 pm on 2 April 2014

A community leader in Northland, one of only three police districts in the country where the level of crime is rising, says poverty is the main factor behind the increase.

Although recorded crime last year was at its lowest level nationally in nearly 30 years, it was up in the Northland, eastern and central districts.

Burglary and car thefts mostly account for Northland's 1.3 percent increase.

The spokesperson for the Northland iwi Te Rarawa, Haami Piripi, says poverty is one of the main causes.

"Anecdotally," he says, "we can see there's very much an increasing level of poverty in our communities, increasing levels of strain and pressure upon families, and I think that we see this reflected in the theme of increase in property crime."

Throughout the country, the number of sexual offences rose by 116 percent.

Several high-profile sex-offending cases - including the teacher James Parker, the businessman Daniel Taylor, and the pastor Eric Reid - came to light in Northland, and Far North mayor John Carter says that has spurred more people to report sexual offending.

"People are more aware and the outcome of what we saw last year with some of the more high-profile ones was ... people feeling that they had the ability to discuss these things where hitherto they may not have."

Northland police say tackling dishonesty crimes is their top priority.

'Feeling unsafe' most common concern

A survey of 1200 people living in the Kaitaia area has found their most common concern is that they are unsafe in the streets and in their own homes. A survey organiser says it has become common to see fights and arguments in public places, and some people are afraid to use ATMs or take children to the beach.

The survey report was presented to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett in Kaitaia on Tuesday. The minister says it also suggests community-driven solutions and she will back the efforts of iwi to pursue them.

Haami Piripi says the key to restoring social health in Te Hiku o Te Ika is providing meaningful work for the many young people who have none. He says that the iwi will shortly roll out a trial work scheme involving conservation, coastal care and marae development.

The Government signed a social accord with four Muriwhenua tribes last year, pledging that 11 ministries would work closely with iwi in future.

Finance Minister Bill English says he's happy to back the iwi's projects because it is cheaper in the end to invest in young people and teach them independence than to prop them up all their lives on benefits.

He says the challenge is to make sure the organisations running such projects are accountable for taxpayers' money and robust enough to make tough decisions when a scheme is not working.