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After Covid, crime is ballooning in empty city centers in New Zealand | New Zealand

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meEarly in the evening, light leeches quickly set off from Auckland’s central business district, and people follow. Offices are pushing workers onto the streets, but their numbers are still meager – of the thousands sent to work from home, many have yet to return. Storefronts on Queen Street, the main shopping artery, are engraved with For Lease signs. By late evening, the street was deserted. In many shop windows, the owners dragged iron bars.

Already emptied by Covid-19, some New Zealand cities are now facing a spike in crime rates. Police data Released to RNZ Violent crime rates in Auckland, the largest city, are up 30% from pre-pandemic levels, and have remained steady compared to the previous year – despite months of lockdown that kept people indoors. in Wellington, Recent shootings have left some residents shaken. A series of ‘ram raids’ made headlines, as perpetrators drive cars into glass storefronts and steal them. The age of some alleged criminals has come as a special shockPolice report: Children as young as 11 years old were caught behind the wheels of stolen cars.

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By international standards, New Zealand’s cities tend to be relatively safe, and headlines in recent months sometimes contain a hint of skepticism. “Why is there a guerrilla war in central Wellington?” one asks. Another says: “What the hell is going on?”: Another ram raid in Auckland.

Behind the headlines is a thick mixture of social deprivation, exacerbated by the stresses of the pandemic, and a group of New Zealanders who have slipped through the cracks of government support schemes, social service agencies and police say.

Covid restrictions and lockdowns have left many New Zealand streets empty. Photography: Jamie Fraser/Getty Images/iStock

deserted and weak

In downtown Auckland, Maori rangers navigate the shopping district in a small flock of flak jackets. They stop to give a cigarette to a woman they call “Auntie”. She sits near the base of the Sky Tower, Auckland’s most famous symbol, bare feet, beanie ripped out for her eyes. “We say aunt, uncle, cousin, because they’re someone’s aunt and uncle or cousin. It’s that simple,” says Blaine Hoyty, one of the wardens looking after central Auckland.

The guards call themselves the “eyes and ears” of the city. Many have spent years distributing food and aid, or walking on community patrols. They say despair is growing in the streets.

“Even though the government has spent a lot of money in the Covid sector, there is still a gap in terms of that delivered,” says Commissioner Grace Ngaroimata Le Gros of Te Tai Taukerau. Those who fall through those cracks, she says, “are not even seen – so they struggle and are back on the streets, petty crimes.”

Grace Ngaruimata Le Gros, Maori Financial Adviser and Financial Controller
Social deprivation and disengagement from the pandemic have contributed to an increase in crime in Auckland, says Grace Ngaromata Le Gros, a Maori financial advisor and controller. Photograph: Tess McClure/The Guardian

They are particularly concerned about children and teens, who began to slip off the radar when Covid-19 closed schools. School principals said last week One in five students was absent Last season.

Some have gone longer, Hoyt says. “You have Rangatahi [young people] Who hasn’t been to school for… two years. It’s a long time.” “We are talking about children … who are street smart, but educationally below the line. And their smarts dominated the street.”

In recent years, the city’s architecture has also changed drastically, with the government – suffering from a government housing shortage – opting to put those in dire need of motels. “You had a lot of emergency housing leaking onto the streets,” he says. “And they did not spread to the bright and lit streets – they spread to the dark dirty streets.”

The surrounding streets were empty. While official lockdowns and most restrictions ended in March, resettlement of New Zealand’s inner cities has been gradual. According to pedestrian census data from the Heart of the City Central Business Association of Oakland, pedestrian numbers are still significantly lower than this time last year, with some areas down 40% or more.

This void may be a major reason for the high crime rates within the city, says University of Canterbury criminologist Jarrod Gilbert. He cites the theory that for most crimes to occur, they need a potential offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian – people who, once present, discourage crime from happening.

Even if the perpetrators and targets remain the same, in New Zealand cities for now, “there is the problem of competent guardians,” he says. “Spaces inhabited by a large number of people prevent crime.” And emptiness can generate emptiness: if people feel insecure, they are less likely to move out—making environments feel increasingly deserted and vulnerable.

The surge in crime itself, and the rush of media coverage that has accompanied it, has become a political issue for the government, which this month announced more than half a billion dollars in additional police funding, one of the biggest spending packages announced at the fore. – Even announcing the annual budget. The $562 million, which will be spent on police over the next four years, will create a ratio of one police officer to every 480 people.

Wellington, New Zealand
In Wellington, recent shootings have shaken some residents. Photo: Zunwen Su / Getty Images / EyeEm

But Maori rangers – along with other social service agencies – say the robberies and ram raids are symptoms of a range of social problems New Zealand has struggled to make progress: housing affordability, inequality and the rising cost of living.

If we want to remedy the situation, it is [has to be] Housing condition, says Hoete. “And if we want to tackle the impact of Rangatahi, and all those shocks that they’ve caused… we need to remove the financial pressures inside the homes.”

Matarora Smith says getting people back on the city streets will also help. Even in recent weeks, there has been a shift, she says, as she walks to the office exit.
“It is great to see so many people. Because he has been dead for a while.”

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