Canterbury street crime up 86 per cent

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2013

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Christchurch has become the street crime capital of the South Island as drunken louts plague the city's streets - and police say locals, not migrant workers, are to blame.

Latest crime statistics show public order offences in Canterbury rose a whopping 86.1 per cent in the 2012/13 financial year on the year before, from 975 incidents to 1814.

In Tasman and Southern districts, public order offending dropped 22.8 per cent and 13.1 per cent respectively.

The only other New Zealand district to have an increase in the crime category was Waikato (18.8 per cent).

Assaults in public places also rose 15.4 per cent in Canterbury, with 1211 recorded incidents.

Canterbury district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles attributed the spike to having about 40 to 50 additional police patrolling suburban nightspots on weekends, arresting people for offending that, in the past, went undetected.

These included urinating, wilful damage and breaching the liquor ban, to more serious disorder and fighting - which had the potential to escalate later in the night.

Alcohol was "nine times out of 10" the cause of problems and the majority involved were local people.

"People get grossly intoxicated, their levels of frustration go up, normal conversations end up in punch-ups or fights, then all of a sudden . . . it's all on," Knowles said. "We're not seeing the big wave of migrant workers [causing] the mayhem some people said we would."

Knowles said he would rather have an increase in public disorder and breach of the liquor bans than "an 86 per cent increase in sexual attacks on women and high-end stabbings and violence"..

Often the alcohol-related problems were encountered in Riccarton, Addington and Merivale.

However, the figures show crime in central Christchurch had increased 15.1 per cent.

Knowles said Christchurch City Council's proposed Local Alcohol Plan (LAP) - which would make suburban bars close at 1am and central city bars at 3am - would help push the disorder figures back down.

Councillor Yani Johanson, who sat on the council's LAP committee, said it was not unexpected to see the city's crime statistics increase.

"People are really stressed out. There's a lot of uncertainty for people, not that that makes any excuse for crime."

The LAP aimed to reduce alcohol-related harm, but was a "pretty blunt instrument" focusing on things like what hours a premises could operate.

"I don't think it's the only solution to dealing with crime. We need to understand why it's occurring, what the drivers are," Johanson said.

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Aikman's Bistro and Bar manager Jeremy Stevens said making everyone leave bars at the same time would in fact result in fights on the streets, in fast food outlets and at taxi ranks. Under time restrictions, customers would consume alcohol faster or continue drinking unsupervised in unlicensed premises.

"This has been proven in the UK, which has since re-adopted 24-hour licensing to operators with proven track records and who meet certain criteria . . . and it's working just fine," Stevens said.

Knowles could not explain why other public order offending had decreased in other districts, other than to say Canterbury was demographically unique, had a different police structure and gave out more pre-charge warnings.

The other significant crime increase was in sexual assaults, which rose 24.7 per cent on last year (368 to 459).

Knowles said the main cause was reports of historic offending.

Overall crime was 5.4 per cent higher than in the 2011-12 financial year, but still remained 20.5 per cent lower than in 2009-10, taking population changes into account.

Theft accounted for most recorded crime at 32 per cent, followed by property damage (15.6 per cent) and burglary (13.3 per cent).

- Fairfax Media

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