6 Jun 2024

Auckland crime - Just Another Fake Allegation?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 6 June 2024

Offices and shops in Auckland are closing because they fear for their staff, but crime figures are decreasing from last year's peak.

Police officers walk in Auckland CBD.

 Police minister Mark Mitchell held a meeting on Tuesday night, where frustrated Auckland residents and business owners expressed their concerns about CBD crime. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

The head of Auckland's central business association says she's relieved the police commissioner has finally admitted the city was abandoned by police during lockdown. 

Today's episode of The Detail looks at what's behind the fears for safety in our biggest city, after constant complaints around crime hit the headlines. Police minister Mark Mitchell held a meeting on Tuesday night, where frustrated residents and business owners expressed their concerns to him.

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck says the reports of crime are "devastating". 

"Particularly because we've seen a significant change since Covid in the environment of the city centre," she tells The Detail.

"We lost 90 percent of our customer facing trading overnight, we lost major events... it was a massive impact, I lived and worked through it, I could see it with my own eyes.

"Initially through those lockdown periods, crime actually dropped. It went up and down and then it took off. We tracked it and we recognised that we, first and foremost for crime, needed more police - a stronger presence on the street. 

"This morning, I heard one clip where the police commissioner said that the city centres had been deserted - abandoned I think was the word - through Covid. That was the first time I've heard an acknowledgement from someone in a position like that.

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 Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck says the reports of crime are "devastating" that won't just be fixed with more police on the street. Photo: Supplied / HOTC

"We recognised we needed more police, we could see there were social issues... and the influx of emergency housing and that needed to be managed better and people needed wrap around support. That was something we lobbied for early on - it hasn't happened in the way we hoped, but it's important what happens from now."

The Detail also talks to Auckland University senior lecturer in urban planning Tim Welch about safe city theories.

He says cities around the world became "donut shaped" after the expansion of suburbia in the 1960s.

"They hollowed out in the middle, there wasn't a lot there except for jobs. So once 5 o'clock hit... there wasn't a lot going on, it got really quiet. It created a lot of opportunities, some would say, for crime to occur. At the very least, it became a less interesting place and had a bigger feeling of danger."

He says that feeling has risen over time. He talks about two main theories around keeping cities safe that have developed since the 1960s.

"The great American urban studies writer Jane Jacobs wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In it, she proposed a theory called 'eyes on the street'," Welch says.

"It's really simple if you think about it - shop owners and residents and school children intermixing on the streets during the day watch out for each other and they create a pleasant environment that feels a lot safer. That encourages more people to be downtown and to interact downtown and that encourages more commerce, more people to move there and that density and variety of people will keep the neighbourhood safe."

The other is the "broken-window" theory, developed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

Tim Welch, bikes

Auckland University senior lecturer Tim Welch explains Jane Jacobs 'eyes on the street' theory as a way of making people feel safe. Photo: Supplied

"The theory was the idea that a single broken window on a building - unfixed - will lead to multiple broken windows and in theory, the whole neighbourhood would decline," Welch says.

"Really the idea was that we should upkeep our urban environment so we don't let it fall into disrepair and then bring on major crime. The controversial component of that was major crime."

This led to police in New York, for instance, using controversial "stop and frisk" policies.

Not only that, but most experts now believe the scheme doesn't work. 

Despite talk about more police on the street being the solution in Auckland, Beck is adamant that won't solve everything.

"It's definitely a combination - this is a health response around the mental health and addiction, this is a housing response... it's definitely not police - it's got to be cross-agency." 

She supports an "eyes on the street" approach of creating a safer city but calls the execution of the vision "incredibly challenging".

"We've had nearly a decade of construction to build this transformed place - we've had Covid, the convention centre burned down, we've had the residual impact of Covid... and the cost of living has really affected the place a lot."

The Detail also talks to Auckland Action Against Poverty co-ordinator Brooke Stanley about the effect of public housing in the CBD and whether that could be contributing to crime.

"I think it's more around perception of safety and people not feeling safe because we have homeless whānau in the city... because I know that there has also been a decrease in crime reported in the Auckland central area," she says.

In January 2023 the police recorded 1,175 "victimisations" in the central city. This was the peak in the past three years. It has been on a downward trend since then, despite a few increases here and there.

In April this year the number was down to 636, which is still more than 20 incidents every single day. 

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