Fran OSullivan: Auckland CBD crime, gangs – more police action, presence required

OPINION:

Auckland is no longer a high-class urban concentration camp where residents are cooped inside a policed border to prevent them from potentially infecting other New Zealanders with Covid-19.

Covid is now out.

But the unintended consequences of failing to adequately police the central business district since the pandemic began continue to live with us.

They need to be addressed with urgency.

It is time to make changes and police the CBD adequately and show New Zealand does place a visible priority on personal safety. Like that central city police station the police hierarchy thinks is a waste of money.

I’m willing to wager good money that police views would be different if their members had spent four months locked down in the central city last year and seen first-hand the impact of Government policies which have led to the Auckland CBD being an effective parking lot for 501 deportees from Australia, home to motorcycle gangs tearing through the city, and other thuggery.

In less than three months, New Zealand will welcome back more tourists, cruise ship visitors and international students. Tourism and international education have been key pillars of NZ’s services export sector.

International visitors have choices. So too, do the parents of international students who must surely look at the lawlessness that has been afflicting Auckland in particular and ask questions.

This is no exaggeration. I know several parents of students at the University of Auckland who have seriously schooled up their children about how to “survive” the CBD. Things such as making sure they are escorted back to their digs if they are young women. What areas to avoid — like Queen St, for heaven’s sake. The street which should be a show-stopper for New Zealand’s prime city.

The statistics tell part of the story.

In the 12 months to March 2022, crime increased in Auckland city and more people began living on the street. Police statistics reveal 1971 assaults, 148 aggravated robberies and 1666 thefts from stores in that period. This was about 30 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Since then there have been the ram raids, intimidation of shop-keepers and break-ins.
Contrast this with Sydney and the rest of New South Wales, which recorded a drop in crime during the pandemic lockdowns. They also operated perimeters (and of course Australia tossed some of their crims back our way).

But Police Inspector Grae Anderson, who has been acting commander for Auckland, is adamant there is no need to put apolice station back in Auckland’s central business district. Anderson has said it is not a good use of his budget. Getting more police patrols who are visible in vehicles and on foot will do the trick. He has also invested in more people to fight organised crime.

I beg to differ.

There is a reason why other sophisticated cities like Sydney have 24-hour police stations in areas like the Rocks or Surry Hills, to name just two.

It’s called visible enforcementand somewhere to go to report a crime or seek assistance when threatened. A sizeable investment in CCTV would not go astray either.

As one of 38,000 central city residents, I’ve had to come to terms with the escalating lawlessness in the CBD in the past two years. I’ve been threatened multiple times by the layabouts plonked outside the supermarkets in Victoria St and Queen St. Chased up Queen St by druggies wanting money. I’ve yet to see them moved on or trespassed — particularly during the four-month period when Auckland was locked down late last year.

There’s been intimidation bydrugged-up thugs and patched gang members coming into office blocks to supposedly use toilets. I’ve witnessed others pushed into the midst of Quay St while police on the other side of the road did nothing.

I’ve put up with 501 deportees from Australia checking into our central city residential block intimidating fellow residents then running amok in city stores.

I’ve heard the tales of other residents around town who have been mugged and beaten, or had their gear stolen. Heard from them about the elderly 501 deportees from Australia running drugs from their apartment blocks with a steady stream of “customers” entering the place they call home.

There is fear in the city.

City leaders are pinning their faith on a CBD recovery which rests on getting major employers to get their staff back at work in the central city.

Some 140,000 people used to flow into the city each day before Covid.

It’s important they do come back — along with the tourists and students who are crucial to rebuilding the economy. It’s also important police invest in 24/7 stations along with more police on the beat.

There is no reason for this to be mutually exclusive.

If they can’t see the obvious, then get the Police Minister to direct them to do so.

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