Teenage handbag thieves at work

Handbag snatchers as young as 14 are targeting Asian women in slick criminal operations, police say.

Thieves see the North Shore as an easy target, area commander Inspector Les Paterson said.

Two incidents took place almost back to back last month, one in Albany and one in Wairau.

Forensic evidence has led to a 14-year-old Manukau male being charged with theft in the North Shore Youth Court.

Police are seeking another 14-year-old they believe to be his accomplice, as well as two others.

''It seems they've learnt to do this from older associates. It's ironic but we know from interviews that they treat this activity as something almost akin to a career,'' Paterson said.

Thieves are known to steal cars from nearby car parks to practice breaking into and starting models such as 1990s Nissans, he said.

''Once a car has been stolen they immediately look for a victim, usually Asian females in car parks and near banks. After grabbing their handbag the stolen car is dumped within a kilometre of the scene.''

Handbag snatching is looked upon as a ''simple theft'' but he said victims often suffer chronic fear and feelings of violation in the aftermath.

Young thieves were also involved in a spate of bag snatches described by police as a ''disturbing trend'' over the July to September period last year.

An 18-year-old Manukau man was charged with robbery after stealing a woman's handbag in Milford. The incident was one of three within the space of a week.

Detective Sergeant Andrew Wong Woo said at the time it highlighted the vulnerability of Asian women as prime targets.

In September an elderly Waiuku woman was approached from behind by a thief, described as a 12-to-13-year-old Maori male.

Another 66-year-old woman was knocked unconscious as she struggled with a thief trying to steal her daughter's hand bag in Manurewa last September.

Auckland Now