Police see increase in family harm reports in wake of Cyclone Gabrielle

8:57 am on 20 February 2023
Police speak to media after seizing 3.2 tonnes of cocaine

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says police are dealing assertively with all reports of crime in the cyclone-hit areas. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

There is an increase in family harm incidents reported to police in cyclone-hit areas, as people struggle with the effects of the storm.

Police have been bolstering resources in the affected areas, in part because communities were setting up their own checkpoints to prevent theft and looting.

At the weekend it was widely reported 59 people had been arrested in Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti for looting and other dishonesty charges.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said reports of dishonesty offences were actually lower than normal.

The 59 arrests included some family harm incidents. He said dishonesty offences were actually at a lower level than usual, however, any instances of preying on devastated communities were "completely unacceptable" and that was why extra police have been deployed to both regions.

"There has been bad behaviour. Police is responding to it and dealing with it assertively."

People were under a lot of pressure which was playing out in a lot of ways - with tension between people in supermarkets and petrol stations as well as in homes.

Frontline police resourcing has been stepped up to deal with the problems. They had 120 extra police officers as well as the Eagle helicopter in the two regions to deal with those issues.

"People are under pressure and that's really understandable in the circumstances they are facing."

He said some communities were feeling vulnerable and isolated but it was not ideal they had chosen to set up roadblocks.

Follow the day's developments on RNZ's blog

Police were working closely with them. Coster said it had to be remembered it was harder to report crime than usual because of the disruption to telecommunication services. There was also a lot of misinformation circulating which was complicating the situation.

"We find that mobile patrolling and being unpredictable is the best way for us to deploy our staff. I think again just to say making sure that we have accurate information and that reduces the fear that people will have."

The Eastern Police District that covers the two regions always had to deal with a "baseline of gang activity". A man had been arrested yesterday for presenting a firearm to another vehicle.

The death toll - sitting at 11 - was expected to rise, Coster said.

A team of 100 people were working on phones from outside Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti making inquiries about those who have been reported as uncontactable.

In some cases it would involve having to ask officers on the ground to visit addresses, however, volunteers were also helping with this aspect.

"So the frontline policing really is focused on safety and security first and foremost."

The gap was also being closed on those feared missing - of the 6500 reported as uncontactable by the weekend 4000 have now been confirmed as safe.

Coster repeated a call for those coming back online to declare themselves as safe via the 105 police number.

He also said police were doing an outstanding job and he was proud of their work.

Crime reports 'reprehensible'

Kiri Allan

Kiri Allan Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

East Coast MP Kiri Allan said it was her understanding that police were not seeing an increase in new types of crime, however, any reports such as a gun being presented to a road worker and the theft of generators were "absolutely reprehensible".

In the current situation there had to be a different approach to security, such as police officers having to escort a a dairy owner to the bank with their takings to ensure personal safety while cash was needing to be used so much to pay for goods.

Allan said she did not expect to see large numbers of extra deaths.

She said her main concern was to ensure the communications network could be restored and teams from Chorus and others have been working "incredibly hard'.

While there was now better connectivity there were still people in blind spots who had no service.

There were also 28,000 homes without power - around 700 were in Gisborne.

"It's slow and patchy but we are seeing more services come into play."

The National Emergency Management Agency had sent another 60 Starlink devices overnight to help isolated communities reconnect.

"They are the new equivalent of gold to be fair."

There were already more than 150 Starlink devices operational in the region, Allan said.

Conserving water was another important factor for the Tairāwhiti region.

Asked about the possibility of wage subsidies for workers in the region, she said the country had a lot of experiences ranging from the Canterbury earthquakes to the pandemic to draw on.

The difference this time was there had been a huge amount of operational damage so a mix of both capital expenditure and operational support may be required.

Alerts from the National Emergency Management Agency for 20 February

  • Keep up to date with advice from your local CDEM Group or from civildefence.govt.nz
  • Floodwaters may be full of sewage, chemicals and other hazardous materials and should be avoided as much as possible
  • Floodwater can carry bacteria that can contaminate food
  • Protect yourself when cleaning up flood water and mud by wearing a properly fitted P2- or N95-rated mask, goggles, gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and gumboots or work shoes
  • Throw away all food and drinking water that has come in contact with floodwater
  • Do not eat garden produce if the soil has been flooded
  • In power outages use torches instead of candles, and only use camp cookers and BBQs outdoors.
  • Conserve water where you are advised to
  • Check the location of pipes and cables before you dig; see Chorus' Before You Dig website and beforeudig.co.nz for all utilities
  • The best way to assist in the response is through financial donations and NOT through donated goods.

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