Crime drop due to 'tag and release'

Last updated 05:00 03/04/2013

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Crime rates have dropped to their lowest level for 24 years - but police are not solving any more of their cases.

Instead, they say they are focusing on preventing major crimes, rather than resolving minor ones.

The drop in crime figures across the board come at the same time as courts statistics show a 14 per cent fall in new cases entering the justice system's busiest jurisdiction - District Court cases dealt with by judges sitting alone. The drop is primarily a result of the police pre-charge warning scheme, which some lawyers have dubbed "tag and release".

The warnings divert lower-end offences such as liquor-ban breaches and disorder away from the court system. Police arrest the offenders, and put a warning on their records, but they are not charged.

Law Society criminal law committee chairman Jonathan Krebs said the result did not mean that crime had gone down, but simply that lower-end offenders were getting off in the interest of cutting costs.

"I don't think it's a good thing," Mr Krebs said. "It's the opposite of a zero-tolerance policy."

According to police statistics for 2012, recorded crime fell nationally by 7.4 per cent.

But homicides, sexual assaults and drug offences were all up nationally, and half the 12 police districts recorded worse crime resolution rates in 2012 than they had 2011.

Wellington District commander Superintendent Mike Rusbatch said the resolution rate needed to be kept within the context of the crime-prevention strategy.

"One of the things we have been trying to do is to put more effort into prevention and more support around victims, as opposed to necessarily the resolution rates, per se.

"So, yes, we are trying to resolve all crime that occurs, but what we're actually trying to do is, our first priority is to prevent the crime happening in the first place.

"There's crimes that we'll put enormous effort into: if we go back to our homicides, all our homicides we solved [last year], and a lot of effort goes there.

"Some other lower-level crimes, clearly they're not such a high priority and we're choosing to take some of that effort and put it in place to prevent crime."

The crime-prevention model has seen an increased visible presence of police as they patrol in greater numbers, which has contributed to the lower crime statistics, police say.

Acting Commissioner Viv Rickard said there were 30,000 fewer victims last year because of crimes being prevented, which was a better result than resolving crimes once they had occurred.

"Our strategy is very clear: we are about preventing crime. And we're also seeing, when people commit crime, our resolution rate is 47 per cent. Let me tell you, I've interacted with a lot of jurisdictions around the world, that's a world-class resolution rate. It's dropped about 0.3 per cent, and that's negligible. So I'm happy with that resolution rate, I'm more focused on having less victims."

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Labour police spokesman Kris Faafoi said the resolution statistics were "not good enough". "It may be just another example of how the squeeze on resources is limiting the ability for our policemen to resolve crime."

- The Dominion Post

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