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Dr Muriel Newman

Crime in Perspective

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27 April 2008

Crime in Perspective

It was just three week’s ago that we heard the sort of news that sends a chill down the spine of every parent – a fifteen year old schoolgirl reported missing. Tragically Marie Davis was buried on Thursday. Her killer remains on the loose.

Last weekend the Sensible Sentencing Trust held a conference for the families of those who had lost loved ones to crime. Ida Hawkins summed up the feelings of the hundreds present, “We all share the same hurt and pain. I am only one of hundreds of Victims that has lost a loved one to murder. It totally destroyed our lives …MENTALLY and PHYSICALLY. A murder that was SENSELESS”.

Ida described the murder of her eldest daughter Colleen Burrows in Napier in 1987. After going out for takeaways, Colleen fell into the hands of two Mongrel Mob members. “Two thugs took her from the street. She refused to have sex with them. They then drove over her repeatedly and kicked her to death. They were both wearing steel capped boots. Her body was so badly mutilated, that I couldn’t see her to say goodbye. She was 16 years of age”.

Ida described how the anguish she lived with on a daily basis turned into despair in 2005 when she learned that one of Colleen’s murderers, Sam Tehei, had received around $90,000 in compensation for alleged mistreatment in prison. “A story had been published about Sam Tehei claiming COMPENSATION, saying his Human Rights had been abused whilst in prison. How DESPICABLE is that! I felt NAUSEATED…I was so SICK. …I needed to speak out to tell someone; this is a sick joke! What about COLLEEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS? He had murdered her. Thereby, depriving her of any RIGHTS at all. It’s so UNJUST!!!!!! From there on, I vowed declared I would endeavour to FIGHT for my daughter’s RIGHTS and VICTIMS their families. That was my first huge step into my journey”.

Ida and many other families in New Zealand have been helped through their trauma by Garth McVicar and the dedicated team at the Sensible Sentencing Trust. The goal of the Trust is not only to support families who are the victims of murder and to fight for their rights, but to lobby for reform of the criminal justice system in order to reduce violent crime in New Zealand.

Many of us can still remember when New Zealand was virtually crime free. We could count the number of murders a year on the fingers of one hand. Nowadays, a murder a week is not unusual.

According to the latest Police statistics violent crime has increased by 43.6 percent since Labour has been in office, rising from 39,688 recorded cases in 1999 to 56,983 last year. The total number of recorded crimes for 2007 now stands at 426,380 – or 48 crimes an hour – slightly down on the 1999 rate of 438,074. (For details click here )

Being such an isolated country, it is difficult to understand just what these statistics really mean. How safe is it to live in New Zealand these days?

To answer that we must look beyond the shallow rhetoric of politicians to ask how New Zealand’s crime rate compares internationally. Fortunately that task has been made easier by the acclaimed “Nation Master” website, which compares countries using an array of measures, including crime. In the year 2000 (when total recorded crime at 427,230 was similar to the present), New Zealand had the second worst rate of crime per head of population out of the 60 countries listed, with 105 crimes per 1,000 people. The worst was Dominica with 113. The UK ranked sixth with 85 crimes per 1,000 people and the USA was eighth with 80 crimes per 1,000 people. (For details click here )

This shameful record is consistent with the results of the “International Crime Victim Survey”. This survey was developed by the Dutch Government to provide a standardised measure of crime amongst participating nations that is independent of police statistics and can be reliably used as an alternative. It is carried out every four years.

The 2004/05 survey covering 30 countries including New Zealand was released last month. Some 2,000 householders in each country were interviewed about their experience with common types of crime – vehicle-related crimes, burglary and other property crimes, and contact crimes – as well as their attitudes to policing, their approach to crime prevention, and the overall “fear of crime” in their community.

The survey shows that, on average, almost 16 percent of the populations of the 30 participating countries had been a victim of crime in 2004. New Zealand ranked third overall with a victimisation rate of around 22 percent, just behind Ireland, and England Wales.

New Zealand also ranked the highest for theft from cars, the second highest for burglary, the fifth highest for assaults and threats, the tenth highest for robbery, and the eleventh highest for theft of personal property and for sexual assaults against women.

The survey compared the prevalent fear of crime in each country by asking questions about the likelihood of burglary and the vulnerability to street crime. On average 29 percent of all respondents deemed a burglary was likely or very likely to occur within the next twelve months and around 25 percent indicated that they felt unsafe or very unsafe walking the streets after dark. The results for New Zealand were higher – 36 percent believed that a burglary was likely in the next year and 30 percent felt unsafe on the streets at night.

The feeling of insecurity was reflected in the number of New Zealanders who had installed burglar alarms (38% in New Zealand compared to 16% for all countries) and special door locks (59% in New Zealand against 45%). This shows a marked tendency of New Zealanders to take a proactive approach to self-protection. (For more details on the survey click here )

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, law and order researcher Dr Lech Beltowski, highlights the vital role that self-protection plays in the maintenance of law and order in New Zealand. In his opinion piece “Wanted – A Law and Order System that works for us”, Lech explains how current policing methods empower criminals at the expense of law-abiding citizens, straying from the ‘community policing’ concept developed by the founder of modern policing Sir Robert Peel. This model, which encourages law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and their property, has been turned on its head with the police all too often behaving as though it is the general public who need controlling, not the criminals:

“What needs to be understood as widely as possible is that law-abiding members of the public actually play an important role in maintaining law and order. Self-defense and intervention whenever they see criminal activity occurring is totally in the public interest and such intervention is something that should be lauded and encouraged, not downplayed or punished.

“If New Zealand wishes to reduce its very high violent crime rate and become once again the safe society it once was, a good first step would be to remove the threat of criminal charges being laid by police against law-abiding citizens whose only crime was to protect themselves, their families or their property or who had intervened in the public good when police were absent.

“Recognising the contribution to law and order that law-abiding individuals make would also go a long way towards re-aligning police objectives with the real needs of the public and would at long last spell out to police hierarchy that, in a democracy the proper role of the police is to be a servant to the public, not a master”. (To read the article click here )

eping people safe and protecting us from crime is a core role of government. Yet police figures and the international comparisons show that the Government is failing in this responsibility. New Zealand is becoming increasingly violent and dangerous. Turning this situation around must be a key priority of any new government.

The poll this week asks about your perception of crime. Do you believe that crime in New Zealand has increased, decreased, or stayed about the same over the last five years? Go to Poll

Readers interested in this issue may like to read other NZCPR articles about Crime and Justice – click here

Reader’s comments will be posted on the NZCPR Forum page click to view .