'Hood rats' scurry back to CBD

Re:Start cartoon by Al Nisbet.
Re:Start cartoon by Al Nisbet.

Gangs of intimidating young "hood rats" have re-emerged in central Christchurch, sparking calls for police to reinstate their disbanded inner city squad.

Retailers, police and security workers say they have noticed a significant increase in miscreants congregating in the Re:Start container mall, the bus exchange and the Oxford Tce riverbank.

Their behaviour included intimidation, spitting, bad language, harassing shoppers for money, gang colours and graffiti, they said.

One security worker said those responsible appeared to be "hopeful gang member types" as young as 12.

Another guard said the attack on a German tourist at the bus exchange last Saturday was symptomatic of the increasing problems.

City councillor and former Re:Start manager Paul Lonsdale said anti-social behaviour should not be tolerated in any city.

Police disbanded their central-city beat squad about four months ago, a move he opposed at the time.

Lonsdale planned to consult fellow councillors when the council resumed this month about requesting a police rethink.

"Anti-social behaviour is a precursor to criminal activity. As seen with the attack on the German tourist, things do escalate," he said.

"You need to act on these things quickly. Police disestablished the beat police just as they brought down the last cordon. I think they need it back."

Before the quakes he regularly saw tourists intimidated at Hack Circle, on the corner of Cashel and High streets.

"We don't want to go back there," Lonsdale said.

Re:Start the Heart Trust chairman John Suckling said the street kids issue had become more significant as the town opened up.

While retailers and the trust were "not happy to see an increase", mall management had strategies in place.

These included security ambassadors, who moved the groups on, and issued trespass notices. "We're determined to maintain a friendly, family environment," Suckling said.

Sergeant Greg Hume, of the central city safety team, said police had also made a "high number of arrests" for squatting in vacant buildings and causing damage.

About four weeks ago police found eight people - including a missing 15-year-old - sleeping in and around a Victoria Square fountain.

"We're getting a nice new city, and these hood rats seem intent on downgrading the area. They are ruining it," he said.

A security worker, who declined to be named, called the groups "a bad look for a city that's trying to promote a clean, vibrant city".

"It's not criminal, but it's a social negative. They impact on the atmosphere that way," he said.

Another guard said he had also encountered people fossicking through bins, vomiting in public and even defecating in the Re:Start mall gardens.

He believed synthetic cannabis and alcohol were the driving factors.

Youth and Cultural Development Society manager Anni Watkin said a minority of young people were responsible for the unacceptable behaviour.

Reinstating the inner city police team was the best way to address the issues, as those officers had a relationship with the street kids, she said.

Canterbury District Commander, Superintendent Gary Knowles, could not be reached for a response.

The Press