Tinkering makes noise but does not fix problems

Action needed to make our communities safer

Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Everyone has the right to be safe – at home, at work and on the streets.

However, people are feeling less safe in New Zealand.

According to the 2016 Public Perceptions of Crime Survey, 71% of respondents felt that total national crime had increased since the previous year.

Last week, on a wet and windy Wednesday evening, I held the third public meeting of my electorate campaign.

It was on community safety and was held in Ellerslie, where the local community has been up in arms at the closure of their community police station.

Rising Crime

Across Auckland last year, there were 1941 incidents of reported crime victimisation each week. Mt Wellington, which is also in the Maungakiekie electorate, has the highest rate of reported burglaries in the country.

Across Auckland, the burglary resolution rate was under 10%. That means, in over 90% of cases, burglars get off free.

Shutting community police stations as crime continues to rise makes no sense.

Media reports last year indicated that closure of 30 police stations could result in saving $3 million. If it is at the expense of community safety, is it really a saving?

In this article, which is the first of two on the topic, I will explore government spending on law and order. In the next article, I will discuss relevant international crime prevention models that are considered best practice.

In 2005, the Corrections Operational Budget was $526 million. In 2015, it was just over $1.3 billion. The Corrections Operational Budget is $800 million a year more now than it was a decade ago. In addition, about $4 billion is spent on prisons since 2005.

The opportunity cost of increasing government spending on prisons appears to be an under-resourcing of the Police force.

In 2016, then Police Minister Judith Collins signed off a four-year Police strategic plan which stated that there would be no increase of Police numbers for the four-year duration.

Declining Ratios

Labour MPs were upset and reminded the then Prime Minister Jon Key of his 2008 election year promise, which was to increase in Police numbers to account for one Police Officer for 500 people. He also promised that the ratio of Police to citizens would keep up with population increase. At present, we have one Police officer to 526 persons.

A few months after the furore, National’s first election year promise was for 880 additional Police officers over four years. How did they go from no increase in Police numbers to an increase of 880 in a few months?

A Cabinet Minute obtained by the Labour Party through the Official Information Act gives us some background to that decision change. Ms Collins took a paper to her Cabinet outlining a proposal for 1165 more Police officers costing $555 million.

According to the Police, increasing Police numbers by 1165 would result in 10% reduction in serious crime.

While that may not sound like a big deal, it is a start.

Proposal rejected

Unfortunately, the Cabinet rejected the proposal. The Minister’s next proposal, which was for 880 Police officers, was met with this response from the Police: “There will be no dedicated extra resources for rural New Zealand or Auckland and limited additional crime prevention capacity.”

So once again, the Government tinkers around the edges, increases Police numbers to look like they are taking action on the face of political pressure but does not do enough to actually warrant a positive change.

We are spending more money on prisons, locking up more people and it is clearly not working.

In addition, health and education funding cuts in real terms and an abject failure to address the housing crisis only serve to widen the inequality gap that also contributes to increasing crime.

We need a better solution to keep our communities safe.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan was born in India, educated in Singapore and New Zealand. She has been with the Labour Party for about 11 years in various capacities. She is the Party’s candidate in the Maungakiekie constituency in the general election scheduled to be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017.

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