24 Dec 2022

Revealed: What’s behind ram raid rampage? TikTok and adrenaline

7:09 pm on 24 December 2022

By Ric Stevens of Open Justice by NZ Herald

One of the 42 ram raid robberies at Glengarry Wines.

One of the 42 ram raid robberies at Glengarry Wines. Photo: Supplied

The children and youths behind the ram raid rampage of 2022 learned about violence in their homes and were partly driven by the fun of it, the adrenaline rush, and the notoriety of posting themselves on TikTok.

Few were members of established gangs, but they were grouped loosely around influential ring-leaders.

When these leaders were taken out - by being moved out of an area or into youth custody - the local offending dropped.

The picture of who is behind the ram raids and the scale of the problem is revealed in a series of ministerial briefing papers from police, obtained by Open Justice under the Official Information Act.

More than 500 ram raids have been reported in 2022 - a six-fold increase from four years ago. The worst-affected areas have been Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.

Hundreds of people have been charged with ram-raid offences this year, about 80 per cent of them under the age of 18.

Counter-measures are proving expensive to improve security at dairies and small retailers, the most common targets for their cash, cigarettes and clothing.

Physical barriers have been costed at $1000 per bollard - an average of six needed at the most vulnerable shops. Cheaper variations including planter boxes, roller doors and fog cannons are now in the mix.

The earliest of the briefing papers is a previously confidential police intelligence report, dated last January, just as the rate of ram raids was climbing to more than 40 per month.

Among its findings were that larger chain-store retailers and petrol stations, which previously might have been ram-raid targets, had the resources to already be implementing effective security measures.

The most common things being stolen were, in order, money and cash registers, retail goods (including clothing), cigarettes and tobacco, and alcohol.

"In both Waikato and Bay of Plenty… ram raids are reportedly being committed for fun and notoriety," the January report said.

"The offending is often posted online. In Waikato it is sometimes live-streamed for others to view."

By May, concern about ram raids had spiked to the point that meetings between several Cabinet ministers and their officials, including police, were called to discuss the problem.

Ormiston Town Centre mall ram raid - Noel Leeming store

The aftermath of a ram raid at a Noel Leeming. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

A police briefing paper for one such meeting said ram raiding was likely being driven by a combination of young people exposed to a "negative home environment", disengagement from school, monetary gain, and "the use of social media, particularly TikTok, to promote their criminal offending and gain notoriety".

"Youth and children offend to gain validation and attention from their peers," the May briefing paper said.

"Some offenders upload videos of their offending and stolen commodities on social media to show off.

"In turn, they receive support and attention, providing negative reinforcement and encouraging further offending.

"Videos are being viewed by other youth and children, who are highly impressionable. This desensitises them to ram raid offending and possibly encourages them to offend."

Police were also becoming concerned at levels of truancy. Elsewhere it has been reported that more than half of secondary school students did not regularly attend this year.

But one of the strongest factors in the backgrounds of those doing the ram raids was the exposure to violence in their homes.

Of 29 people going through the youth justice system for ram-raiding in May, all but one was logged on police systems for having been linked to family violence - either as a participant or as a witness.

One 16-year-old had been at 37 police family harm call-outs before they were picked up for ram raiding.

By July, police had conducted a detailed analysis of 63 young ram raiders.

This found that only three had gang connections, but more than half had come to police attention through family violence call-outs before they were 3 years old.

More than half had been reported as a missing person at some stage, and more than half had been dealt with under Section 48 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, which means they had been picked up as an unaccompanied minor in a risky situation.

Police generally noted a lack of engagement with education or health services, possibly impacted by the Covid lockdowns since 2020.

The Bottle-O in Walters Road, Takanini, was rammed by a car on Tuesday 17 May.

The Bottle-O in Walters Road, Takanini, was rammed by a car on Tuesday 17 May. Photo: RNZ / Mohammad Alafeshat

They said this had also limited some of the intervention work by various agencies which may have addressed some of the young people's behaviour before it escalated to ram raiding.

Another briefing paper said offending for many provided a way to "escape a negative home environment".

"Young offenders have told police they offend to get an adrenaline rush, avoid boredom and because they love to drive."

When it came to counter-measures, police have been helping retailers through a retail crime prevention scheme set up specifically in response to the ram-raid issue, and which has now been extended to small businesses which experienced an aggravated robbery.

When it was first established, police costed bollard installation at $1000 per bollard plus GST, and worked on the assumption that an average retailer would need six.

At that time, police anticipated there would be 500 ram raids, and that half of them would involve small businesses who would become eligible for protection - 250 shops requiring $6000 worth of bollards each.

The costing for that was $1.5 million, plus $825,000 for police time in running the scheme, indicating a total of $2.325m from the Crime Prevention Fund. The cost doubled for 500 premises.

Since then, police have announced new measures including a fog canon subsidy scheme (at $4000 per retailer) and a $4m fund to support councils in Auckland, Hamilton and the Bay of Plenty with crime prevention measures including street lighting, CCTV cameras and planter boxes.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament on December 1 that 189 shops had completed a police assessment and 116 had quotes approved or installation of counter-measures commissioned.

The police briefing papers advised that ram raids accounted for less than 1 per cent of all retail theft.

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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