3 Apr 2024

Invercargill mayor calls for tougher consequences for youth crimes

10:30 pm on 3 April 2024
15112022. News. Kavinda Herath /The Southland Times /Stuff- pomona street discount and vape store was broken last night

An Invercargill discount and vape store was ramraided in March 2023. Photo: Kavinda Herath

Invercargill's mayor wants tougher consequences for youth crimes, saying the city is grappling with a rise in teenage offending.

Mayor Nobby Clark said the city had experienced an "inappropriate" level of youth crime including vehicle thefts, break-ins, assaults, and death and rape threats against councillors and business owners, or their partners.

A public meeting will be held on Saturday so those impacted can share their stories and work towards a solution.

Clark said the escalation in crime meant some people were living in fear or scared of retaliation if they spoke up.

He described an outburst by a group of about 60 teenagers in the CBD last month where retailers were assaulted and police had to intervene.

One of the people who was assaulted ended up with concussion and also received a death threat, Clark said.

"To me, that's not something that goes through Youth Aid.

"I don't care whether they're 11 or 12 - [these] are serious, adult crimes and they should be dealt with as though they are adults because the 18-year-old cut-off at the moment gives ... some of these young offenders a licence to do what they like. They're just absolutely bulletproof."

There was a wider issue of vehicle thefts and property crime including break-ins, which had been causing issues for a few years but had escalated recently, he said.

"To me, it makes no difference whether they are 11 or whether they are 17.5; they're still falling within what we would call the Youth Aid system, and that's seen by many in the community as a bit of a wet bus ticket."

He believed the Youth Aid system was flawed in the extent to which it was holding young people accountable for their actions, and questioned whether it was fit for purpose.

The community also wanted more police in the city, especially a stronger presence in the streets to act as a deterrent, and hoped to raise this issue with the police, the police minister and local MP Penny Simmonds who had all been invited, Clark said.

"To hear that we've got some problems. What you see in Auckland is now starting to branch out in Invercargill."

He described some residents waking up to discover a group of teenagers were trying to break into their car.

It appeared they would usually go joyriding before dumping or burning them out when the petrol ran out, Clark said.

"We've had some examples of the burnt out cars causing fires at one of our reserves out by the beach, to the extent where we needed fire (crews) and helicopters there."

Police did not respond to specific questions about what they had been experiencing on the ground.

Instead, Southland Area Commander Inspector Mike Bowman said police understood the public concern around youth crime in Invercargill and were working alongside others in the community to address the issue.

"However, it is not something police can solve alone. It requires everyone in our community to help empower and support our young people to live full and active lives," Bowman said.

"A number of agencies work together to help local whānau and prevent youth falling into patterns of crime, as well as helping those who do find themselves going down the wrong path, to get back on a right one."

Police did hold young people committing crimes to account, he said.

"If certain ingredients are met, police can and [do] prosecute youth for certain offences. These guidelines are written in law," Bowman said.

"However, where possible, police look for alternative resolutions for young people, such as family group conferences, or a restorative action plan - which could include things like community work.

"It's also important to remember that usually it is a small group of young people who commit multiple offences."

The public meeting will be held on 6 April at 7pm at the Civic Theatre.

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