Crime surges in New Zealand post Covid
Violent crime is up 30% from pre-Covid levels in New Zealand's empty city centers.
New Zealand is seeing a spike in crime rates following the pandemic.
According to police statistics obtained by RNZ, violent crime rates in Auckland, the country's largest city, were up 30% from pre-pandemic levels and stayed stable compared to the previous year — despite months of lockdown keeping people home.
Recent shootings in Wellington have left some people scared. A spate of "ram-raids," in which offenders smash their automobiles through glass storefronts and plunder them, has dominated the news.
Police have reported apprehending minors as young as 11 driving stolen automobiles. The surging crime is blamed on social deprivation and increased stress following the pandemic.
The indigenous people of Maori have been sending wardens to patrol the downtown Auckland retail zone. The wardens refer to themselves as the city's "eyes and ears." Many have spent years distributing food and aid or walking on neighborhood patrols. They claim that desperation is spreading on the streets.
“Even though the government has poured a lot of money into the Covid sector, there’s still a gap in terms of those that are hooked up," explains Te Tai Taukerau warden Grace Ngaroimata Le Gros.
Those who slip through the gaps, she claims, "don’t even get looked at – so they struggle and revert to the streets, and small petty crime."
They are especially concerned about children and teens, who began to disappear after Covid-19 forced schools to close down. Last semester, one in every five pupils was absent, according to principals.
According to Blaine Hoete, a warden in central Auckland, emergency housing spilled on the streets with the government short being short in that area.
While most restrictions and official lockdowns were lifted in March, the repopulation of New Zealand's inner cities has been slow and according to Auckland's core business organization, the Heart of the City, pedestrian counts are still substantially below this time last year, with certain districts down 40% or more.
According to Jarrod Gilbert, a criminologist at the University of Canterbury, this emptiness may be a contributing factor to the increase in inner-city crime.
Gilbert believes that “Spaces that are populated by large amounts of people inhibit crime.” If individuals feel unsafe, they are less likely to come out, making places seem more desolate and vulnerable.
The surge in crime, as well as the media frenzy that has followed it, has become a political problem for the government, which this month pledged more than $500 million in additional police money, one of the largest expenditure packages announced in the run-up to the annual budget release. The $562 million in police spending over the next four years will result in a ratio of one officer for every 480 persons.
However, Maori wardens and other social service organizations believe the robberies and ram-raids are symptomatic of a series of societal issues that New Zealand has struggled to address: housing affordability, inequality, and escalating living costs.