20 Feb 2023

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins calls for calm after rumours on crime in flooded areas

6:15 pm on 20 February 2023
Esk Valley on 20 February following Cyclone Gabrielle.

Esk Valley on 20 February following Cyclone Gabrielle. Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

In Monday's post-Cabinet conference, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins responded to reports of crime in flood-ravaged areas and people setting up community checkpoints to deal with incidents.

On Sunday night, police said more than 100 extra officers were brought into the Eastern District, including to areas that were cut off from Cyclone Gabrielle, and an eagle helicopter had been brought in to help track and locate offenders or vehicles of interest.

At that point, police had logged almost 1500 jobs throughout the Eastern District, including public reassurance, patrols and vehicle stops.

Hipkins said police were not reporting an increase in crime over and above what they would normally expect to deal with in Hawke's Bay, but 140 extra police staff were supporting the efforts there.

"Any suggestion that things are out of control is just wrong, and amplifying those kind of rumours isn't helpful and it doesn't help the police to do their jobs."

People were being arrested but there was no "evidence to suggest that there's a degree of lawlessness as some of the rumour mill might be suggesting", Hipkins said.

As of Saturday night, five people have been arrested after a spate of lootings across Hawke's Bay.

Hipkins said of course people were feeling anxious and stressed, with some yet to be connected to power and phones, but called for people not to "play to that fear".

If people were setting up checkpoints, they needed to be doing that in consultation with police, he said.

Where incidents of people filming have been reported to police, that "more accurately falls into the rather sad category of disaster tourism, so people filming and taking photographs of damaged areas rather than ... for the purposes of coming back and committing criminal activity", he said.

Rumours and people speculating could lead to heightened fear, he said. He knew of only one instance where a firearm had been presented.

The threshold for invoking military support for local policing was a very high one and police had "not given us any indication that we're anywhere near that", he said.

"There is no state of lawlessness, let's be really clear about that, the police are reporting regular levels of offending as they deal with on a day to day basis, they've got extra police in the region to make sure that they are getting on top of any issues that emerge, because there's higher tension there because of the situation that people have faced.

"I'd encourage everyone to look at this objectively and focus on what the police are saying because they're dealing in facts, they're dealing in actual reported instances of crime rather than the rumour mill."

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