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Covid-19 stifles crime

Provisional Police data shows a major drop in most areas of offending under the most draconian level of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Most categories of offending fell sharply under alert level 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown, while reports of family harm rose slightly.

The drop-off in new crime has allowed police to focus resources on ongoing organised crime investigations, Police Association president Chris Cahill says. These have resulted in more than 90 arrests and major drug and firearm seizures.

These operations would have started before the lockdown and covert methods such as electro-surveillance and phone analysis had been able to continue.

Physical surveillance, however, would have been challenging with few people about, he said, “because the best place to hide is in a crowd”.

According to provisional Police data related to level 4, burglary and theft events fell the most, by nearly 63 per cent, to 7760, compared with baseline data of 20,812. Baseline data consists of the previous 10 years of data trends for the same period of time.

New Zealand was under level 4 lockdown for 33 days, from March 26 to April 27.

A total of 15,027 family harm events were recorded under level 4, up 1.9 per cent on the baseline figure of 14,748.

Road policing events were down by 57 per cent compared with baseline data, from 28,551 to 12,250; violence and assaults dropped by half, from 3149 to 1575; and property damage by 44 per cent, from the baseline of 1864 to 1045 under level 4.

The category of offending that dropped the least was that of alcohol and disorder events which fell by 13.5 per cent from the baseline of 10,859 to the level 4 figure of 9396.

Reports of breaches of the lockdown, via the Police 105 number, totalled 52,825 under level 4. Of these, 45,414 reports related to people and 7403 to premises. Actual breaches totalled 5857 nationwide, the largest number of culprits in Counties Manukau and Wellington district.

During level 4, police made nearly 75,000 checks related to the pandemic. Most of these were “directed patrols” (25,952), and reassurance checks on essential facilities (22,036).

Overall calls for service were down by nearly 12 per cent under level 4, from 242,420 to 213,501. But prevention activities nearly doubled from the baseline level of 119,069 to 234,075.

Targeting organised crime

Police continued to target organised crime over alert levels 3 and 4, executing more than 100 search warrants, seizing 43 firearms, and arresting 93 people across the country.

The manager of the Police national organised crime group, Detective Superintendent Greg Williams, said more than 250 charges were laid. Drugs including 25kg of methamphetamine and 30kg of cannabis were seized.

Fourteen clandestine labs were located and a substantial amount of chemicals and equipment relating to methamphetamine manufacture seized, along with more than $1.2 million in cash. Gangs targeted include Comancheros, Mongrel Mob, Black Power, Nomads, Headhunters, Rebels, King Cobras, Tribesmen, and Mongols.

“Throughout these operations, staff have been policing in a changed environment and observing all health and safety requirements,” Greg said.

Road toll plunges

The road toll dropped dramatically for the month of April, which roughly equates to the level 4 period, when only essential travel was allowed. The Transport Agency reported nine deaths in April, compared with 31 the previous month.

This was the lowest monthly road toll since records began in 1965. The previous lowest was 11 in April 2012. The monthly average for 2019 was 29 deaths.

Chris Cahill said the low level of public complaints about policing of the lockdown indicated police had been “even-handed and taken the right approach”. In lower alert levels they were working with bars on how to operate safely. This included how to ensure punters, particularly when they had imbibed alcohol, obeyed the rules. “The last thing the industry needs is the public making it impossible for them to operate.”

The biggest controversy had been about police cooperation with iwi roadblocks (see President’s column, p3), but actual complaints had been few. Police officers were also used to criticisms that they wielded excessive power, he said. However they knew that in the real world they exercised their powers with a great deal of discretion.

Four Police staff test positive

A total of four Police staff have tested positive for Covid-19 so far. Three of these related to overseas travel, and only one case was traced to a job conducted by an officer.

Police Association president Chris Cahill says this number is pleasingly low, particularly given how many officers were spat on during the lockdown.

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