The current wikipedia Crime in New Zealand page is a vandalised version of the information below. The wikipedia page was attacked on 19 May, 2015 by an Australian editor calling himself Nick-D who doesn’t like my contributions to wikipedia on New Zealand justice issues.
Nick-D blocked me from editing Wikipedia indefinitely in May 2013. However, I was able to continue editing under a different pseudonym. Whenever Nick-D finds out I have contributed something to an article, he deletes the new content. He is willing to remove accurate, well-referenced information simply because of a personal grudge – thereby diluting the quality of wikipedia pages about justice issues in New Zealand.
I have posted the pre-vandalised wikipedia page about Crime in New Zealand below because it contains a great deal more information than the current wikipedia page. If you want to restore the version below to wikipedia, try clicking on the Undo button next to Nick-D’s pseudonym. However, being the pig-headed individual that he is, he will probably ‘undo’ your undo.
Crime in New Zealand is generally measured by the number of offences being reported to police per 100,000 people. However many crimes go unreported, especially sexual crimes, and do not appear in official statistics. Crime rates in New Zealand rose for much of the 20th century but began to decline during the 1990s (see graph). The decline continued into the 21st century and, in 2013, the recorded crime rate was the lowest it has been in 29 years.
Despite the drop, crime often dominates much of the political debate in New Zealand. The media often focus on violent crime even though a relatively small proportion of criminal offending involves murder or serious violence. This leads to misperceptions that crime is increasing and generates public apprehension and fear of being a victim of crime, as opposed to the actual probability of being a victim. Victimization surveys collect information about people’s perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system and tend to give much higher figures than reported crime.
Crime statistics in New Zealand are collected in different ways. Each method provides a different type of information and has different limitations which is why so many claims about crime trends reported in the media are inaccurate or misleading. For instance New Zealand Police publish monthly statistics for a range of crime indicators, as well as statistical reports for each calendar (ending 31 December) and fiscal (ending 30 June) year. Historically, the Police have published crime statistics with its annual reports, from as early as 1900. Statistics New Zealand also publish crime statistics, based on Police data, in a web application that can produce statistical tables for each offence code. Statistics New Zealand also publishes the results of its own research and analysis of crime statistics, based on data from Police, the Ministry of Justice and its own surveys. From 1 July 2010, statistics for the New Zealand Justice sector began using the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) to classify and aggregate offence statistics.
The Ministry of Justice has conducted Crime and Safety Surveys in 2006 and 2009 to assess victimisation rates as well as other research about crime in New Zealand. Victim surveys tend to suggest that less than a third of ‘crime’ is actually reported to Police which is consistent with victimisation surveys in similar countries such as Australia, Britain and the USA. However, victim surveys also include reports of relatively minor matters which would not necessarily be seen as crimes by the justice system so interpretation of the figures is difficult.
Between 1998 and 2007, the police became more effective at resolving crimes such that the resolution rate has gone from about 36% of all reported crimes to nearly 50%. The trend has not continued and in 2012 the number of cases resolved dropped to 47%. For serious violence the resolution rate has gone from 71% to 80% and the murder resolution rate has gone from 62% to 91%. In the longer term, the percentages of resolved murder cases will be even higher as the Police report, that over time, they resolve close to 100% of all murder cases reported to them.
In the 20th century
Despite different means of measuring crime, the statistics show that crime rates in New Zealand rose through most of the twentieth century, following similar patterns in other Western countries.  Towards the end of the century, the rate dropped and has stabilised or continued to drop slowly since then. There has been much speculation about the causes of the turnaround. The impact of economic downturns, unemployment rates, local disasters, better security, changing demographic patterns, increased policing and various changes in the culture and life-style have all been examined. Collectively, all these factors may play a part.
In the 21st century
The crime rate has continued to decline in the twenty-first century. In 2010, the number of murders in New Zealand dropped by nearly a quarter over the previous year (from 65 to 46), while overall reported crime fell 6.7 percent. In 2011, New Zealand’s recorded crime rate was at its lowest in 15 years, down another 5.6% on the figures from 2010. In 2012 (financial year), the crime rate dropped another 5.9 per cent on the previous year – taking into account an increase in the population of 0.7%. Homicide and related offending dropped by 21.5%.
The total number of offences in 2012 was the lowest since 1989, and gave the lowest crime rate per head of population since before electronic records were maintained. Police said the largest decrease was in Canterbury, where recorded crime fell by over 11% – due to a large decrease in recorded theft and property damage offences immediately after the Christchurch earthquakes. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean crime actually dropped. Deputy Police Commissioner Viv Rickard said “This decrease appears to be partly due to the public not wanting to bother us with minor matters when they knew we were dealing with the earthquake.
Factors contributing to reduced crime
Sir David Carruthers, a former Chief District Court Judge and now head of the Independent Police Conduct Authority, says the drop in the crime rate in New Zealand is partly due to a drive to reduce the number of teenagers being suspended or expelled from school. Around 70% of the most serious youth offenders are not in school, and keeping them involved in education is the best way to reduce offending. Education Ministry figures show that school suspension rates have been declining for at least 12 years, from 7.9 for every 1000 students in 2000 to 5.2 in 2011. The decline has been most dramatic for Maori students – down from almost 20 to under 12 for every 1000 Maori students.
Kim Workman of Rethinking Crime & Punishment says another factor is the changing demographic in society; youths aged 18 to 24, who commit most crime, are a declining proportion of the ageing population. Recent changes in police strategy have also reduced the number of prosecutions in the past two years. Police are using diversion and warnings more frequently instead of charging minor offenders and are issuing safety orders for less serious domestic situations – which allow an offender to be ordered out of the house for up to five days without recording this as an offence. Figures released in 2012 show police have issued more than 32,000 warnings for petty crimes, resulting in a 10% drop in charges before district courts. The warnings are most commonly used to resolve disorderly behaviour and breach of liquor ban offences.
Police Minister Anne Tolley believes the decrease in crime is due to increased frontline policing and prevention. In 2014, she said: “Police foot patrols increased by 155 per cent over the last two years, and officers are now equipped with smartphones and tablets which allow them to input and access important information without returning to the station. This is delivering an extra half a million frontline police hours every year, or the equivalent of 354 additional officers.”
Public perceptions of crime
New Zealand perspectives
Despite the drop in crime, many New Zealanders continue to believe that violent crime is out of control. A Ministry of Justice study in 2003 found that 83% of New Zealanders held inaccurate and negative views about crime levels in society and ‘wrongly believed’ that crime was increasing. A more recent study in 2009 by Dr Michael Rowe, also from Victoria University, found “an overwhelming public belief that crime has got worse” despite New Zealand’s murder rate dropping by almost half in the past 20 years. Reflecting the depth of these misperceptions, between 2006 and 2009, only 57% of New Zealanders reported feeling ‘safe’. This means that despite reductions in crime, and despite our international standing as a peaceful country with high levels of human development, New Zealanders feel no more secure than the citizens of former communist states like Bulgaria (where only 56% feel safe) and Albania (54%). New Zealand is also on a par with Middle Eastern countries like Iran (55%) and Lebanon (56%) and African countries such as Angola (53%), Nigeria (51%) and Uganda (51%).
International perceptions of NZ
New Zealanders’ perceptions of safety are also out of sync with the way the country is perceived internationally. In 2010 and 2011, New Zealand topped the Global Peace Index issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace – out of 149 countries. The index is based on 23 indicators including corruption, violence, crime rates, military spending and access to primary education. According to the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, New Zealand is second to Denmark as the least corrupt nation in the world although there are different views on this – see Corruption in New Zealand.
Characteristics of victims
A victim survey undertaken in 1996 found that 67% of the population were not subject to any criminal activity, 14% suffered from two or more criminal offences, and 4% had been the victim of five or more criminal activities. The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey conducted in 2006 showed that Māori have a much higher risk of victimisation than other groups. The figures showed that each year around 47% of Māori were victims of crime and Māori were also more likely to be victimised multiple times (4.3 incidents per victim compared with 2.7 for European victims). The risk of victimisation for Māori was particularly high for serious offences, including sexual violence and violence by partners. For example, 8% of Māori women experienced sexual victimisation – twice as high as the national rate for women (4%).
Analysis of the 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey showed that a number of factors contribute to the high rate of victimisation of certain groups of Maori over other Maori. These included being young, being on a benefit, being single, living in a sole-parent household, living in neighbourhoods with high social disorder and being female.The survey also that offences involving violence by strangers and damage to property were less likely to be reported and that four in ten Māori were unable to name any community service that was available for victims.
Characteristics of offenders
Offenders can be classified according to their individual characteristics or from a population based perspective.
Lord Bingham, former Chief Justice for Britain and Wales describes the profile of a typical offender like this: “He is usually male, often of low intelligence, and addicted to drugs or alcohol, frequently from an early age. His family history will often include parental conflict and separation; a lack of parental supervision; harsh or erratic discipline; and evidence of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. At school he will have achieved no qualification of any kind, and will probably have been aggressive and troublesome, often leading to his exclusion or truancy. The background will be one of poverty, poor housing, instability, association with delinquent peers and unemployment”. This description applies equally well in New Zealand although it does not take account New Zealand’s particular ethnic situation.
Over-representation of Maori
New Zealand’s crime statistics are compounded by the over-representation of Maori at every stage of the criminal justice process. Though Maori make up only 12.5% of the general population aged 15 and over, 42% of all criminal apprehensions involve a person identifying as Maori, as do 50% of those in prison. For Maori women, the picture is even more acute: they comprise around 60% of the female prison population. The rate of imprisonment for Maori is over 700 per 100,000 of Maori in the community, seven times higher than the rate for non-Maori which is around 100 per 100,000. This gives New Zealand an overall imprisonment rate of just under 200 per 100,000 of its population.
These statistics are open to a variety of interpretations. A report by the Corrections Department says: “The figures lend themselves to extremist interpretations: at one end, some accuse the criminal justice system of being brutally racist, as either intentionally or unintentionally destructive to the interests and well-being of Māori as a people. At the other, there are those who dismiss the entire Māori race as constitutionally ‘criminally inclined’.”
The drivers of crime
A forum held at Parliament in 2009 on the Drivers of Crime in New Zealand identified mainly socio-economic factors contributing to crime such as: “Family dysfunction; child maltreatment; poor educational achievement; harmful drinking and drug use; poor mental health; severe behavioural problems among children and young people; and the intergenerational transmission of criminal behaviour.” The forum noted that “Many of these issues are concentrated within socially and economically disadvantaged families and communities.” In New Zealand, it seems these life circumstances are more likely to affect Maori families than non-Maori – which contributes to the comparatively high rates of offending by Maori.
Alcohol and drug abuse
In 2010 the Law Commission released a report on the social destruction caused by alcohol in New Zealand and quoted district court judges who said that 80% of all offending in New Zealand occurred under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
An associated risk factor is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) caused by the mother drinking while pregnant. This can cause damage to the frontal lobe of the baby’s brain resulting in learning disabilities and lifelong physical, mental, and behavioural problems. Researchers at the University of Washington have estimated that more than half of children born with FASD encounter trouble with the law, whilst 35% are incarcerated at some stage during their lifetime. Canadian research with young offenders has found that more than one fifth are behaviourally impaired due to the condition. In New Zealand up to 3000 children a year are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Auckland Judge, Tony Fitzgerald, has called for greater public and professional awareness of this issue and the need for better assessment and support facilities to respond to the high offending rates of individuals affected by FASD.
Traumatic brain injury
A range of developmental and early-age risk factors are known to be associated with a developmental pathway that increases the risk of (among other things) criminal involvement. One of them is suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a child. Professor Randolph Grace of the University of Canterbury, and Dr Audrey McKinlay from Melbourne’s Monash University, studied children in Canterbury who had received a head injury before the age of 17. They found that moderate to severe TBI led to ‘higher levels of malevolent aggression’ and was a significant predictor of offending behaviour. About 36,000 new cases of TBI occur every year in New Zealand surpassing the number of heart attacks and more than five times the number of strokes. The number of cases is significantly higher than in other developed countries, and those most at risk are children, young adults, men, Maori and rural inhabitants.
Internationally, the gap between the rich and poor has also been identified as a contributor to crime. It has been argued that as the income gap grows wider, statistics for child mortality, mental illness, teenage pregnancy, crime, imprisonment and a range of other factors all tend to increase. This has particular relevance to New Zealand because income inequality has risen sharply since the mid-1980s coinciding with the introduction of neo-liberal economic policies by former Labour Party finance minister, Roger Douglas. A report released in 2011 by the Ministry of Social Development showed the gap had widened even further putting income inequality at its highest level ever. However, care needs to be taken in applying this theory to New Zealand; while income inequality has been growing, the crime rate in New Zealand has been dropping. Other social indicators, including the rate of imprisonment, have been increasing.
Addressing the drivers of crime
In 2009, following the Drivers of Crime forum, the National led Government established four priority areas to reduce crime in New Zealand. This included improving support for maternity services and early parenting, addressing conduct and behavioural problems in childhood, reducing the social destruction caused by alcohol (and increasing treatment options for problem drinkers), and improving the management of low-level repeat offenders.
Improving support for maternity services and early parenting is considered important because conduct and behavioural problems in childhood are an important predictor of later chronic antisocial behaviour, including crime. Interventions the National led Government has adopted in this area include increasing the number of intensive case workers to support vulnerable teenage parents and attempts to improve participation in early childhood education.
Addressing conduct and behavioural problems in young children is also important. The Justice Department says if early intervention with the five to ten per cent of children with the most severe conduct and behavioural problems is effective, this has the potential to reduce subsequent adult criminal activity by 50 to 70 per cent. A key government proposal in this area is the establishment of programmes to strengthen positive behaviour and reduce bullying at school. In 2008 three-quarters of primary school children reported being bullied, ranking New Zealand second worst out of 35 countries in a major international study.In 2012, youth helplines in New Zealand were still being inundated with soaring numbers of bullying-related calls; Youthline reported bullying-related calls jumped from 848 in 2010 to 3272 in 2012. The youth services say schools are failing to protect students.
Reform of liquor laws
To address the harm caused by alcohol, the Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a comprehensive investigation into New Zealand’s liquor legislation. The Commission received thousands of submissions and their investigation took over two years leading to the release of a 500 page in-depth report: Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm. The Government incorporated many of the less important recommendations made by the Commission into the Alcohol Reform Bill. However, the Bill was widely criticised by health professionals for failing to address six key evidenced-based recommendations put forward by the Commission. The six included raising the price, making the extra revenue available for the treatment of problem drinkers, banning television and radio advertising of alcohol, reducing trading hours of bars and clubs, reducing the number of outlets allowed to sell alcohol and raising the purchase age back to 20 years. A NZ Herald on-line survey showed 80% of respondents thought the Government’s reforms were a ‘token gesture’ or ‘could be stricter’.
When the issue of the purchase age reached the floor of parliament in August 2012, MPs voted to keep the purchase age at 18. Around the same time, Justice Minister Judith Collins also revealed she had dumped a plan to ban the sale of RTDs (ready-to-drink) with more than 6 per cent alcohol content.After meeting with liquor industry representatives, Collins agreed to allow the liquor industry to make its own regulations on RTD’s instead.
The relationship between crime and imprisonment
New Zealand’s imprisonment rate
New Zealand has followed the pattern of many Western countries by locking up more and more of its citizens and the crime rate has fallen. The number of people in prison has been growing steadily for the last 50 years and since 2010, the rate of imprisonment has been just under 200 per 100,000 of population. This gives New Zealand the second highest rate of imprisonment out of 29 countries in the West. New Zealand’s rate is much higher than countries it tends to be compared with, such as Canada (117), Australia (129), England and Wales (154) and is more on par with many third world countries like Morocco (where the rate is 199), Gabon (196), and Namibia (191).
In New Zealand, as in most western democracies, the rate at which people are sent to prison primarily depends on trends in penal policy and sentencing law – in particular laws affecting the availability of community-based sentence options for judges, the use of remand, and the maximum length of sentences for any given offence. Penal policy is inevitably affected by the prevailing political climate. Indeed, Professor John Pratt of Victoria University in Wellington says that while crime is driven primarily by socio-economic factors, the growing rate of imprisonment in Western countries has been driven by penal populism – a process whereby the major political parties compete with each to be “tough on crime” by proposing laws which create longer sentences and increase the use of remand prior to sentencing. The news media contribute to penal populism by sensationalising violent crime and the process is fuelled by victims groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust vilifying judges, politicians and the Parole Board for failing to lock offenders up or keep them in prison.
In addition to sending more and more people to prison, New Zealand also seems to have had a history of locking people up for relatively minor offences. In 1930, the Under Secretary for Prisons reported that “34% of the total number of persons committed to prison were serving terms of less than one month, 58% for terms of less than three months and 73% were for terms of less than six months”. The proportion of people in prison for serious crimes was relatively small. Even today, 70% of all offenders in prison will be released within seven months.
In July 2009 Dame Sian Elias, the Chief Justice, argued against what she described as the “punitive and knee-jerk” responses to crime because of its potential consequences for prison overcrowding. In a controversial speech to the Wellington District Law Society, she called for a more rational approach to penal policy and said the focus on victims had made courtrooms “very angry places” and had put at risk the impartial system of deciding criminal blame. She also said that if action to address the growing prison population was not taken, Government might be pushed into the use of executive amnesties to reduce the growing prison population. In response, Minister of Justice Simon Power said “The Government is elected to set sentencing policy. Judges are appointed to apply it.”
The cost of crime
The Corrections Department estimates that one criminal with a lifetime of offending generates $3 million in costs to victims and taxpayers. In 2011, the cost to the taxpayer for Police, Courts, and Corrections was estimated at over $3.7 billion a year. This figure does not include the costs incurred by victims such as medical expenses and replacing stolen property. In 2006, when all other costs were included, crime was estimated to cost New Zealand $12.5 billion.However, this figure does not include the cost of white collar fraud and economic crime because the Serious Fraud Office has so far been unable to generate a methodology to calculate the annual cost, although officials believe the cost was “likely to be in the region of many billion of dollars per year.”
Legislation and sentencing
Legislation has a number of purposes – not least of which is to impose penalties and sanctions for breaches of behaviour proscribed by a particular Act of Parliament. New Zealand has codified its criminal law through various pieces of legislation. Most criminal offences that would result in imprisonment in New Zealand are set out in the Crimes Act 1961, including the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 – although criminal offences related to specific situations also appear in other legislation. Less serious breaches of the law are dealt with under legislation such as the Summary Offences Act 1981 and the Land Transport Act 1998 where penalties are more often a fine or other community sanctions rather than imprisonment.
It is up to the courts to apply particular statutes. In the process they may need to interpret what the legislation actually means and decisions made by the courts create what is called common law. Common law is based on precedents – decisions which are used as a guide, or as an authoritative rule, in later, similar cases. Parliament may subsequently disagree with the courts’ interpretation of a particular statute, and in such situations, may amend the legislation to make its meaning clearer.
Need for better scrutiny
As time goes by, most Acts of Parliament are amended by successive Governments which sometimes creates irregularities in their application and has the potential to create confusion and inconsistency. In 2006 the Law Commission issued a report which said different courts and even different judges were inconsistent when it came to sentencing, particularly for less serious offences in the District Court. Highlighting this inconsistency, research at Victoria University has found that, on average, judges in provincial areas of new Zealand are six times more likely to send repeat drink drivers to prison than judges in metropolitan areas. In one province, drink drivers are ten times more likely to be sent to prison. VUW researcher, Wayne Goodall, says there are “systematically different approaches” coming from different regions, because there is “a problem with sentencing policy”.
Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer believes that when legislation is introduced to parliament it needs ‘more and better scrutiny’ than it currently receives. He says the volume of new Bills being introduced is greater than Parliament can manage and “The quality of legislation is getting worse. Not enough time and effort is spent on getting it right.” Although Parliament is responsible for passing legislation, the courts have responsibility for deciding how laws are to be interpreted and applied – a task made more difficult if parliament has ‘not got it right’.
In 2007, the Labour Government announced it would appoint a sentencing council which would be responsible for bringing greater consistency to legislation, and developing sentencing guidelines. The Government had particular concerns that judges were taking an unduly hard sentencing line with low level offenders leading to prison overcrowding. It put $5.8 million towards developing the council over a period of four years, but it never got off the ground. When National won the election in 2008, Justice Minister Simon Power scrapped plans for the Sentencing Council and also scrapped the Criminal Justice Advisory Board set by Labour in response to a recommendation from the Ombudsman.
Several agencies enforce New Zealand criminal law, although the New Zealand Police is the national agency responsible for enforcing criminal and traffic law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace throughout New Zealand. The Police frequently co-operate with other enforcement agencies both on a case by case basis and also through multi-agency taskforces targeted at Organised and Transnational Crime. Fisheries, Immigration, Organised Crime, Serious Fraud, Aviation and Border Security all have dedicated enforcement agencies. In addition to Police, road controlling authorities, such as local city or district councils, have the power to enforce their own parking by-laws.
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- Fewer crimes committed, solved
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- Drivers of crime priority areas, Ministry of Justice.
- Improving maternity and early parenting support.
- Addressing conduct and behavioural problems in childhood
- NZ schools lead world in bullying Dominion Post 14 december 2008
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- Alcohol Action New Zealand
- Alcohol reforms too diluted for public taste, NZ Herald 28 August 2012
- Alcohol bill diluted to an insipid brew, NZ Herald, 29 August 2011
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- National to scrap sentencing council, Stuff 2 August 2008
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- Bylaw-making and operation, Auckland Transport