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'Firm and fact based'- Ardern denies Govt is soft on crime

Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Mon, 28 Nov 2022, 3:06PM

'Firm and fact based'- Ardern denies Govt is soft on crime

Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Mon, 28 Nov 2022, 3:06PM

The Government has today announced new measures to combat retail crime - including a fog cannon subsidy scheme open to all small shops and dairies in New Zealand.

The announcement comes after the alleged murder of Sandringham shopkeeper Janak Patel last Wednesday.

Speaking at a post-Cabinet press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said while youth crime “is now much lower than in the past, the risks and harm from ram raids and other retail crime is concerning communities and creating victims”.

“Shop owners and workers feel targeted. That’s unacceptable.

 “Police are having a noticeable impact on offending rates, with ram raids during November down by 83% compared with August – 13 so far this month against a high of 75 in August. But we need to lock that progress in and sustain it,” Ardern said.

“The initiatives we’re announcing today make this the most significant crime prevention financial package in recent memory.

“It backs up Police actions, through funding to support crime prevention initiatives, such as better street lighting and cameras and by investing in more fog cannons.”

It comes as many dairies across the country shut their stores today for two hours to protest what were considered insufficient Government measures to address crime following the alleged murder of Janak Patel.

A group also assembled outside Ardern’s electorate office in Mt Albert. The superette was within Ardern’s electorate.

The dairy didn’t qualify for a Government-subsidised fog cannon because it had not experienced enough crime, the Herald reported earlier.

Ardern said new funding of $4 million will be made available to local council to assist with crime prevention measures.

“This will be made up of $2 million for Auckland Council, $1 million for Hamilton Council and $1 million for the councils in the Bay of Plenty to match on a dollar for dollar basis by Councils for local crime prevention measures.

 “These partnerships are likely to be focused on Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) measures in geographic areas where small retailers are commonly targeted, such as street lighting, CCTV cameras and planters.

“Conversations have been had already between Police and government officials and Auckland Council, Hamilton Council and Bay of Plenty Councils to identify opportunities that can get started soon.

“We’re also announcing today that we will make funding available for all small shops and diaries to install fog cannons, adding to the 1000 that have already been installed as part of the fog cannon initiative. "

She also announced the extension of the Retail Crime Prevention Fund.

Janak Patel, 34, was fatally stabbed while working at the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham. Photo / Supplied

Janak Patel, 34, was fatally stabbed while working at the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham. Photo / Supplied

“The $6 million Retail Crime Prevention Fund was set up for small shops and dairies in early 2022 as offending shifted to ram raiding. Today, we’re expanding eligibility to aggravated robbery committed over the last year.

“Police are making progress on the number of stores accessing the fund. More than 100 shops now have installations approved, with 431 security measures allocated and underway. This includes 93 fog cannons, 78 security sirens, 57 alarms, 63 CCTV systems, 43 bollards and 36 roller doors.

“We’ll also continue our work with repeat offenders and their families.”

Ardern said funding of $4000 will be available for each shop who will be able to have the fog cannon installed through an approved supplier, meaning they can access them directly.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins said this will be the first time the fog cannon and ram raid funds have operated at the same time.

“Despite global supply chain issues, Police has been successful in ordering an extra 455 fog cannons, which are expected to arrive before Christmas. This adds to the 270 fog cannons that are currently in the country and have been allocated to affected shops,” Chris Hipkins said.

“More challenging will be the time it takes to install them. The 1000 fog cannons that are already installed took four years, and despite Police doubling the number of local contractors that will do the work to six, it’s expected it will take till the second quarter of next year for the number of installations to start to ramp up.”

The fog cannon fund was set up in 2017 after aggravated robberies of commercial premises had doubled from 2015 – from 599 to 1170.

“It was expanded in 2018 and 2019, and 1000 fog cannon were installed by the end of 2021.

A 34-year-old man was arrested on Friday and charged with aggravated robbery and murder following Patel’s death. A second man, 42, was also arrested and had been charged with robbery. Both men were remanded in custody on Saturday, but the latter did appear in court today was again remanded in custody until December 14 at the Auckland High Court, when his case will be called at the same time as the man accused of murder.

A third person had also been charged with robbery and appeared in court today. The 36-year-old man was granted interim name suppression in his brief appearance. He was remanded in custody ahead of a bail hearing set down for December 5 in the Auckland District Court.

Speaking at the post-Cabinet press conference today, Ardern thanked police for a “speedy investigation” into the death.

She didn’t say much given the matter was before the courts but said it was important “justice was done”.

In 2018, the rollout of 1000 fog cannons was initiated. She referenced the initative’s narrow scope under the National Government

She spoke of the ram raid fund and how more than 100 shops had had installations approved, including bollards, roller doors and fog cannons.

Cabinet had approved three new measures: A new package $4m fund matching “dollar for dollar” with councils to address crime, expand ram raid fund to include aggravated robberies that have occurred in last 12 months and a $4000 subsidy for dairies for fog cannons if they choose to.

Of the $4 million fund, much of it would be targeted to Hamilton, Auckland and Bay of Plenty, she said.

The subsidy for fog cannons was intended to assist shop owners who hadn’t necessarily been hit by crime but were concerned.

Ardern said police had been successful in ordering 455 fog cannons and they were expected to arrive before Xmas. That was in addition to the 270 fog cannons in the country that were already allocated.

There were concerns tools in the justice system weren’t being used fully and work was being done to amend that, Ardern said.

There was also a concerted effort by police to target offenders. This year, there had been 517 ram raids, 360 prosecutions and 145 youth referrals. There had been 13 ram raids this month

Asked how quickly shop owners would be able to access measures, Police Minister Chris Hipkins said there was a “supply constraint” which meant help wouldn’t arrive overnight

Ardern rejected the Govt had acted too slowly, citing that 1000 fog cannons had already been implemented. Today’s annoucnement meant any small business owner that felt vulnerable should be able to get help. However, she noted there was a “global issue” with access security tools

“It is understandable that right now there is a huge amount of emotion,” Ardern said noting that there had been a spike in retail crime.

Ardern rejected the idea that it took Patel’s death for the Govt to act, claiming the $4m fund with councils was decided before Patel’s death and a meeting between her and ministers on youth crime had occurred on Wednesday before Patel’s death.

On her message to people outside her office, Ardern said she had spoken directly to some of them. She said for the first time in NZ history, a small business owner who felt vulnerable but hadn’t suffered crime would get significant support from the Govt

Asked what success looked like for her, Ardern said the government’s job was to help make people feel safe.

She said the dairy in question had an aggravated robbery in 2016 but that the narrow scope of the fog cannon initiative,s et by National, meant the dairy did not qualify. The dairy was also not eligible for the Labour government’s ram raid fund. “They have fallen between two programmes”

She said she wasn’t surprised by the number of people who protested today. She understood the “strength of feeling around that”.

She accepted there had been a spike in retail crime but it wasn’t as widespread as some people had claimed but she qualified that by saying, “One [death] is one too many.”

She said this wasn’t about politics, it was about ensuring people felt safe and fixing the problem.

Ardern said she had spoken to business associations in particular. Hipkins said business representatives had asked ministers to do much of what the Government had announced today.

Ardern was expressing “deep deep sorrow” about what had happened, but she didn’t want to make assumptions on what would have happened in different circumstances, such as if a fog cannon had been implemented in the dairy.

She referenced issues with implementing security measures for stores that had been hit with ram raids i.e. it took a long time due to supply issues to get a shopfront repaired and then able to install security measures. Ardern had asked ministers to contact to the Insurance Council to make sure “they come to the party”.

Asked if she would consider allowing shop owners to access pepper spray, Ardern said she was concerned about arming shopkeepers and police had advised against it. Hii[pkins said if shopowners were put in a position to defend themselves, they were putting themselves and customers at risk. Fog cannons de-escalated risk almost immediately and they were very safe. When fog cannons had been deployed, there had been very few cases where re-victimisation had occurred.

92 per cent of suspected retail crime was committed by adults, Ardern said, noting that retail crime was not a youth crime issue specifically.

She repeated the tools in the justice system were not being used as the public would expect. Asked why they weren’t being used, Ardern said it was due to a number of reasons such as the time it takes for a child to go through the Family Court. She also noted that work currently underway by the Government had identified 70 young people linked to much of the ram raids and other such crimes and through intervention, roughly half of those young people had re-engaged with some form of education.

Ardern said police had a focus on retail crime and to identify syndicates of activity. The national unit that was recently created was focused on this.

On the council fund, which was raised by the Hamilton mayor, it would increase the scale of what they could do to expand the security measures that businesses could get.

$2 million would be given to Auckland, $1 million for Hamilton and $1 million for Bay of Plenty. She noted, for example, there had been instances of businesses being delayed for an “inordinate amount of time” to access simple measures like more lighting

The number of businesses who had experienced an aggravated robbery in the last year is smaller than those that have experienced a ram raid this year

It was understood the man accused of murdering Patel had been deported from Australia earlier this year, the Herald on Sunday reported yesterday. The grounds for his deportation from Australia cannot be reported for legal reasons.

The fog cannon initiative would be an initial investment and would be topped up if necessary. “Today we’re saying if you feel vulnerable, we want you to be able to access support.”

Hipkins wouldn’t deem the current state of crime “a crisis” but he said it would feel like a crisis for those who were victims of crime

“I’m not going to put a slogan around it. I am happy to debate this issue, based on evidence and fact.”

Ardern rejected criticism the Government is soft on crime. “We are firm and fact-based,” she said.

“I do think we need to seek a resolution”: PM discusses Three Waters legislation

Ardern also faced questions on concerns raised by some of the country’s top public law academics who believed a recently added entrenching provision in the controversial Three Waters legislation that would require 60 per cent of MPs to overturn the provision in the future - an increase to the common threshold of 50 per cent - would set a “dangerous precedent”.

She said the provisions applied to the privatisation of water assets. “We do not want to see ever the privatisation of water assets.”

She said it was understandable some had raised issues about the entrenchment aspect. She said they would go back to Parliament’s business committee to discuss the matter

She said she stood firm against selling water assets.

It was a “more novel use” of entrenchment in this case and she felt it was appropriate to go back to the committee and discuss it

She rejected the idea this issue was caused because Parliament was rushing. She wouldn’t describe it as careless law-making.

Hipkins said the last he heard about entrenchment, the proposal was 75 per cent and he wasn’t in the House when it was lowered to 60 per cent for the provision to be repealed.

She said the thresholds used for entrenchments weren’t something that was normally before Parliament.

Ardern said the points made by those in the legal profession “is a fair one” and the special cases for entrenchment should be reserved. She wanted a resolution on the issue

Given the issue affecting all parties, Ardern said it was important to have guard rails in place regarding entrenchment.

“I do think we need to seek a resolution to the issue.”

Often SOP happened in real-time and Ardern didn’t know how much notice had been given, she said.

On entrenchment, Ardern said what was put before Parliament was a more novel use of the process and now Ardern wanted to discuss how it would be used appropriately in the future

National’s recently released youth crime policy proposed creating military academies for 15 to 17-year-olds who were the most prolific re-offenders, an idea that had been widely criticised for having a lack of evidence.

Born in the Indian city of Navsari, Patel was remembered as a man with a “great love for his country and culture” in a funeral service last night. Those in attendance included Patel’s widow Vijeta, his parents, sisters and other family, as well as Ardern who had received an invitation.

MPs and former politicians - including Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Mark Mitchell, Michael Wood and Kawaljit Singh Bakshi – also attended the service, as did Detective Inspector Scott Beard who was leading the investigation into Patel’s death.

Following Patel’s death, Sandringham neighbourhood watch co-ordinator John McCaffery claimed he had been working with the superette owners since 2017 to get police to install fog cannons and other security measures, but had reportedly been turned down multiple times.

Patel and his wife relocated from Hamilton to Auckland last week to run the Sandringham dairy while its owners were overseas.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins told media on Thursday that it was “not clear” to him why the dairy wasn’t approved for a fog cannon and wanted to know why.

“Based on what I can see, that business should have qualified so I’ve asked for an explanation [from police] as to why they didn’t get a fog cannon.”

Police Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Police Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Aggravated Robbery Initiative began under the National Government in 2017 with the intent to install fog cannons in at-risk businesses to address an increase in aggravated robberies in 2016.

New funding for the initiative was announced in 2020, which had led to 1000 fog cannons being installed.

While the eligibility criteria had been expanded in 2018, a press release from then-Police Minister Stuart Nash stated determining factors included whether businesses had been previously robbed and the number of police callouts near the shop.

The Herald understood police had no record of the Rose Cottage Superette making an application to the initiative, but local officers had suggested it as a possible candidate.

A total of 14,500 businesses were considered under the criteria of a small, independent retailer. With limited funding, those businesses most at risk were given priority.

To qualify for a fog cannon, a business needed to have experienced eight instances of burglary, robbery or theft in three years among other requirements.

Police data reportedly indicated the Rose Cottage Superette had experienced one aggravated robbery in 2016 and therefore did not meet the criteria.

Data suggested the superette experienced another aggravated robbery in April 2022, but this was after the fog cannon initiative had concluded - with 1000 fog cannons installed across the country.

This year, police rolled out the Retail Crime Prevention Programme, which was intended to support small businesses impacted by ram raids after a spike earlier this year that saw a more than 500 per cent increase in that crime type compared with previous years.

The initiative was designed to help fund security measures for retailers who had experienced ram raids, however, many - including Police Minister Chris Hipkins - had been critical of its slow rollout.

It was understood the Rose Cottage Superette had not experienced a ram raid and was not eligible for the fund.

Auckland Detective Inspector Scott Beard spoke to media following the death of a dairy worker earlier this week. Photo / Jed Bradley

Auckland Detective Inspector Scott Beard spoke to media following the death of a dairy worker earlier this week. Photo / Jed Bradley

In the latest police update, Beard said the knife used in the stabbing and the dairy’s till had not yet been located, as well as the clothing worn by the man accused of the murder.

Beard thanked community members who had assisted police’s investigation and encouraged anyone with further information to contact police by calling 105 or the online “Update My Report” tool, quoting file number 221123/3847.

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