Red zone private security costs $1000 a day
The Government is spending $1000 a day on private security to prevent arson, squatting and burglary in the residential red zone.
Christchurch police credit the private security guards for averting a feared crime wave as residents abandoned red-zone suburbs.
Private security firm Sub5 was appointed by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority in May.
Security guards patrol the red zone night and day, inspecting Cera-owned properties and reporting suspicious activity to the police. The private security is bolstered by community patrols and special policing.
Senior Sergeant Roy Appley said he expected a strong security presence in the red zone ''forever more''.
''One of the things we were worried about after the quake was the potential for social unrest,'' he said.
''It would have been anticipated that there was a good chance that crime and other social issues would come to the fore. We would have thought that the chance of burglaries would be higher. It hasn't seemed to in great numbers.''
Appley said it was essential to maintain security in the residential red zone for the sake of the whole city.
''If we don't keep it under control, the wrong message will go out that this is a free zone where you can act like you want. That would send out a message to the whole city.''
He said squatting was a common problem reported to police by the private security guards.
Sub5 security officer Rory Garland said most red-zone squatters were previous owners staying on after settling with Cera.
''I can understand why some of them stay. They are usually the person that owned the house. Most squatters we find are the previous owners staying on,'' he said.
A wave of burglaries and arson in the red zone has not transpired, police and Fire Service officers told The Press.
Crime in eastern Christchurch fell over the last financial year, police figures show.
Crime figures for the area covered by New Brighton police station, which includes most of the Christchurch residential red zone, show a fall in burglaries and property damage.
The Fire Service has not seen a rise in arson. Fire safety officer Mark Thomas said there had been no ''noticeable increase'' in arson since the February 2011 quake.
''Some previously common arsons like vehicles being deliberately ignited have in fact decreased,'' he said.
''We will be keeping a close watch once winter ends and vegetation starts to dry out, but we have nothing so far that has caused us concern.''
Despite falling crime figures and extra security, remaining red-zone residents feel vulnerable. They report theft of copper spouting from empty homes, suspicious activity at night and squatters in some vacant properties.
Appley said empty homes in the red zone were vulnerable to crime.
''The biggest deterrent is someone looking after a property. One of our highest priorities is to put that in place in the residential red zone,'' he said.
''The private security guards are providing guardians for property that Cera now owns. That is what is keeping crime much lower than expected for this area.
''It is essential that there are guardians in these areas. The biggest deterrent for crime is a guardian.''
Cera security head Brenden Winder defended the cost of the private security.
''In comparison to the asset we are protecting, it is minimal,'' he said.
''How can we make it safe for people remaining, anticipating that there will be some low-level criminal activity.
''We have a big role to play in those suburbs and we want to make sure we are contributing to the security of those areas. Everything is tracking really well.''
The security guards compile weekly reports of red-zone activity that are sent to the police and Cera. The information is used for red-zone policing, Appley said.
''We will identify which properties are at risk and work through a system of how we are going to get rid of those properties. We will identify high-risk ones and demolish them in a timely manner. We will demolish them as quickly as possible.''
The private security guards spend more time patrolling areas where most residents have left. These areas, which Cera says are about 70 per cent empty, are known by the security guards as ''black zones'' for their lack of lights.
Warning for red-zone refugees
Red-zone refugees will be prosecuted if they return to their former homes to take anything after settling with Cera, police warn.
Senior Sergeant Roy Appley said people needed written permission from Cera to remove items from settled properties.
''Anybody removing items once it has been settled is involved in a dishonest offence,'' he said.
''We are going become a lot more firm with how we deal with those people. There will be some sort of prosecution.
''Things are a lot clearer now as to the rules and regulations over who has permission to remove things. The property is often onsold to a demolition contractor.
''Part of that arrangement is that they will recover some items. There is business around those recovered items.
''We have been reasonably lenient with people because we understand that there is a lot of emotion tied up with these things.''
Red-zone residents talk about security.
bfRex Collins, Dallingtonnf:
It is pretty scary. The whole area is black at night. We get a lot of people scoping around in the night looking for opportunities to rip out hot-water cylinders. We have had the police out five or six times to check out various things.
It is quite nerve-racking. Often you can't sleep because you hear a noise. You don't sleep again for the rest of the night. There are not many neighbours around.
The police have been over almost straight away in most cases. It's good that you can rely on them to respond.
bfNicky Smith, Richmondnf:
It has been so long now I am used to living like this.
I was very sad to see my neighbours go.
If I see any car come and stop in my cul-de-sac during the day I will go out there and ask what they are doing.
I have taken note of a few number plates from suspicious-looking cars and keep them on hand in case they come back.
Spouting was stolen from a house around the corner.
This was a lovely area. It's sad.
bfJeff Hoare, Richmondnf:
We have a rest home at the end of our street that has been abandoned and that is broke into all the time.
We have had a fire round the corner. You see people in houses that you know have been abandoned.
There is no tagging, but some of the houses around the corner have had squatters.
It is a bit depressing sometimes. When you walk around the suburb it is quite a depressing outlook.
Houses need to be demolished more quickly because they are just magnets for unsavoury characters when they are sitting empty.
- The Press