[As published in September/October BayBuzz magazine.]

Frequent ram raids, violent attacks on business owners, mindless vandalism and smash-and-grab teens wreaking havoc on communities. Based on the headlines, you’d be forgiven for thinking crime has spiraled to shocking new levels. 

But is this true? 

How bad is crime in our region really, and what’s the best approach for creating meaningful change? We look into the statistics, compare political party policies, speak to experts and ask affected locals for their thoughts on crime in Hawke’s Bay 

The numbers
How safe do you feel? Statistics show Kiwis feel less safe today than they did a year ago.

Yet, while we feel more concerned about being the victim of a crime, we’re less likely to report it. The latest New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey reveals just 69% of Kiwis have high trust and confidence in police – down 5% on the previous year. According to the survey, the level of crime going unreported has now jumped to 81%.

Perhaps people feel police simply won’t be able to respond quickly when they need them. Police undoubtedly are feeling increased pressure on staff and resources. Nationally, demand for police services has increased by 35% over the past 10 years.

Frontline police are working incredibly hard to keep Kiwis safe, but that job is getting harder, says Hawke’s Bay Area Commander Inspector Lincoln Sycamore. “Police continue to actively consider how to best balance and respond to competing demand pressures and we work closely with our partner agencies to help support the people and whānau involved.”

While national crime figures have increased, in Hawke’s Bay total crime has remained much lower than the national average and is currently trending down, says Sycamore. Compared to last year, residential assault, non-residential assault, general violence and disorder, and residential burglary have all decreased in the region, say police.

There are specific areas of concern, however. Arguably most alarming is the increase in gang membership, with the number of people on the police gang register in the Eastern District rising from 801 in 2017, to 1367 in 2023 – an increase of 71%.

Retail and violent crime incidents have also increased in our region, with retail incidents increasing 41% between 2018 and 2022, and violent crime by 23% between 2017 and 2022. Like other parts of the country, Hawke’s Bay business owners are being impacted by ram raids, vandalism, burglaries and violence. Michael Hill Jeweller in Hastings has been ram raided so many times, they now have security guards on the doors. At nearby Cornwall Park Store, the terrified owner was left injured by a man who confronted him swinging an axe and demanding money. In Havelock North, the owner of The Milkbar has been forced to increase security after his shop was broken into and burgled by a group of youths. The list goes on. 

Gangs, drugs, theft and family harm

Gang membership across the Eastern District is among the highest per capita in New Zealand. The impact of gang violence and the presence of gangs has a huge impact on the community’s sense of safety and the availability of illicit drugs, says Sycamore. “We see more and more people who are habitual illicit drug users with negative mental health outcomes.”

Another challenge for police is they often need to spend lengthy periods dealing with people in crisis. Police are increasingly spending more time in people’s homes responding to family harm and mental health incidents, which can impact their ability to deliver other services, says Sycamore. A number of agencies work with police to support vulnerable people in our community and make a difference. “A silver lining of these challenges is that many solutions for intergenerational issues that often predicate instances of family harm have come from our community.”

Hawke’s Bay has also seen an increase in vehicle theft, which reflects the trend across NZ. Our rate across the Eastern District is approximately 20% higher than this time last year, however we are well below the national average for this type of crime. Vehicle crimes are predominantly committed by young people, who say they’re ‘bored’ or ‘doing it because their mates are’, says Sycamore.

The cyclone has brought additional problems to the region. As recovery work continues, people have been taking advantage of affected citizens and businesses in the form of theft and burglary. 


Law and order has been a hot topic for this general election, but will political parties make meaningful change or are they simply planning to put more people behind bars for longer at a bigger public cost? Both Labour and National have committed to funding more rehabilitation for remand prisoners, but what else do they have to offer? 


Labour MP for Tukituki, Anna Lorck, says the government is focused on prevention, protection and accountability when it comes to crime. The party’s changes to date include increasing police numbers and investing in their training and legislative tools. In the Eastern District, the government has increased police numbers by 20%, with another 105 officers as part of delivering on its promise for 1800 more officers nationwide, says Lorck.

Labour plans to continue to crack down on crime by increasing accountability for offenders, giving police more tools and programmes to break the cycle of crime. It also plans to strengthen the youth justice system to ensure offenders will be held accountable and will also receive the rehabilitation they need. As part of this, two new high needs units would be built and legislation introduced to make residences more secure.

Lorck says she’s been a long-time advocate of more community police presence to improve public safety in neighbourhoods and retail areas and to help people feel connected to the police. Many smaller places lost this important presence when National shut down local police stations and cut community cops, she says. Lorck says feedback she’s had from residents, especially those in Havelock North and Clive is they’re seeing the long-term impact and repercussions of losing their community cop. “There is more work to do, and we have to address crime at both ends. I believe community policing plays an important role in that and public safety is an absolute priority,” says Lorck.

Party leaders say we need a tougher approach to offenders. If elected, National’s plans include:
• Introducing a Young Serious Offender (YSO) category to increase consequences for repeat offenders.
• Bootcamps to set serious young offenders on a more productive path.
• Giving police more tools to tackle gang activity by banning gang patches in public, issuing dispersal notices, and stopping gang members accessing guns. Being a gang member will also become an aggravating factor in sentencing.
• Imposing tougher sentences for criminals, introducing further rehabilitation measures for remand prisoners and more support for victims.

National candidate for Tukituki, Catherine Wedd, says locals are feeling scared and unsafe about crime and it’s time to toughen up on offenders. “Crime is becoming the norm and we can’t let our kids walk around freely anymore, like we used to when we were growing up. Business owners are living in fear each day as they don’t know what is coming next,” she says.

Gang-fueled crime and looting of cyclone victims are just two areas of major concern in the region, says Wedd. “We need to get to the core of the crime and stop these gangs from intimidating and taking over our towns.” In Pakowhai, Wedd has spoken to a number of residents about their concerns over theft from vulnerable families since the cyclone. “Crime is very real on the ground for people, but the government continues to ignore pleas for a tougher approach. National will not,” she says. 


ACT calls for swift and serious consequences for offending in our community. As part of this, the party plans to introduce a new policy of Gang Control Orders to crack down on gang members and minimise risk to the public, according to a policy statement. The Orders would allow police to apply to the courts for an injunction against an individual on the national gang list. ACT would increase the power of the police to seize the assets of gang members found with illegal firearms.

Other plans include:
• Introducing an infringement notice offence for shoplifting, with instant punishments such as fines and community service.
• Introducing ankle bracelets for serious youth offenders.
• Reviewing the use of electronic monitoring sentencing for violent offenders.
• Reforming the reparations system so the Crown faces the burden of risk for slow reparation payments or non-payments, rather than the victims of crime.
• Reinstating Three Strikes – a sentencing regime that directs judges to sentence third-time serious offenders to the maximum sentence – to send a signal that New Zealanders won’t tolerate repeated violent and sexual offending.
• Building more prison beds to increase capacity.
• Prisoners will be required to complete skills or rehabilitation programmes to be considered for parole.

“Protecting the safety and property of its citizens is the government’s first and most important job. The rights of victims should trump the rights of criminals,” says the statement.


Better rehabilitation programmes
Putting more people behind bars for longer does little to discourage offenders from future crime and comes at a huge financial cost. Instead, ensuring prisoners have access to meaningful rehabilitation and reintegration programmes can have a real effect on their chances of re-offending. These can range from drug and alcohol interventions, to motivational, parenting and money management programmes.

Both Labour and National have committed to funding more rehabilitation for remand prisoners before they get thrown behind bars with hardened criminals. Currently people on remand have limited access to programmes such as drug and alcohol treatment until they have been found guilty of a crime. A change in policy to include those on remand would be a chance for first-time offenders to make positive changes earlier.

In a further effort to boost this approach, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis recently introduced a law change to further improve rehabilitation and reintegration outcomes for Māori, who are significantly over-represented in prison.

Better post-prison help

Rehabilitation is a key aspect of crime reduction. Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Service Trust (PARS) is a support group that works to that end – providing information, court assistance and advocacy to ex-prisoners and their families.

When someone has finished their term of imprisonment, they have often lost everything, including their home, job, relationship, and connections with family, says PARS regional manager Adie Transom. “You come out of that punishment with a real sense of loss and loss of belonging – not quite knowing where you fit in the community. As well as that you’ve got the stigma of being a prisoner that you will carry for the rest of your life.” 

As a result, clients continue to face consequences long after their punishment has ended. PARS Hawke’s Bay field worker Ruth Spicer has seen many clients struggle with a sense of isolation after release. Helping clients with practical day-to-day tasks such as obtaining a birth certificate, bank account, driver’s license and accommodation, as well as reconnecting with the community are fundamental parts of their work.

In NZ, more than a third of people who leave prison are back inside within two years. Getting back a sense of belonging is instrumental to reducing the risk of reoffending, say Transom and Spicer. To help clients reconnect with the community PARS runs two programmes: PARS Connect, where volunteers meet with clients to talk and listen, often at a cafe, their home or a community event, and PARS Men’s Group, a peer support group. Through the programmes, Spicer has seen clients grow in confidence, a positive outlook and sense of purpose. “I have observed that it is the most simple acts of showing kindness and caring that can make a difference.”

Removing barriers can also help reduce the risk of reoffending. “If you are cold, hungry, unsure where you will be resting your head, unsure of how to operate the phone to call for support, then this is stressful and potentially a crisis point,” says Spicer. When prisoners are released, they are given a one-off Steps to Freedom payment of $350 – a sum that has not been increased in 30 years. It’s simply not enough for people who are often coming out with nothing and must start from scratch, says Transom.

There is no one answer for preventing reoffending; it’s complex and dependent on the individual’s situation. “But in short I believe to reduce the risk of offending, systems need to be refined, connections with the community are made available, and care and interest in each person is shown,” says Spicer.

Better prevention

While enforcement serves a purpose, it is not the only solution to reducing crime. Addressing crime requires society-wide, longer-term interventions that focus on the underlying causes of offending. This could include poverty reduction, education and housing.

Positive engagement with family, school, sport, and community provides young people with connections and also makes them less likely to commit offences. When it comes to gangs, early intervention is the best chance of breaking the cycle.

In Hawke’s Bay, police need a coordinated approach with agencies, communities, iwi, and social service providers to prevent family harm and youth crime, says Sycamore. These kinds of problems are complex and take time to change. “A lot of this is intergenerational, and you can’t change that overnight. The best advice is to look out for each other and care for your neighbours.” 


Hastings resident Pam (changed name) has experienced crime first-hand. Aged in her late 70s, Pam has always been security conscious and felt safe in her home. So, she was shocked to be woken around 10am on a Sunday morning by a rock being thrown through her kitchen window 

A man had scaled the high fence at the back of her property and then broken her window to gain entry. “I was lucky that I didn’t wake up that fast,” she says. By the time Pam reached the kitchen, the offender had disappeared with her handbag. “I really didn’t know what to think.”

While there was little cash in her bag, the offender used Pam’s cards to make purchases at several dairies and petrol stations in the area, totaling $500. Before she had a chance to cancel her cards, Pam’s bank spotted the suspicious spending and froze them. They also later reimbursed her fully for the amount he spent. 

The offender left his fingerprints in Pam’s house. He had committed several other burglaries and has since been caught and imprisoned.

Speaking to her peers about the experience, Pam says very few of them have had the same thing happen to them. “You tend to think that it is a lot more common than it is.” She believes the move from cash to cards might have had an impact on the number of crimes like hers. “Who now has money at home? So there is no real advantage in committing a home burglary because the chances of getting any money are so remote.”

Pam remains stoic about the burglary, which she says has had little impact on her other than the inconvenience of having to replace her cards and get a new birth certificate. She also credits the bank and police for providing her with support throughout. As part of this, officers have checked her property is as secure as possible and she has the option to take part in a programme for victims of crime. 

Reflecting on her experience, Pam supports offenders gaining earlier access to rehabilitation programmes while on remand. Pam says giving more thought to this process could help people make positive changes earlier. “If it means literacy, getting them a driver’s license, all those sorts of things that will help them, then that’s the way to go.” 

To report a crime that’s happening now call 111. Otherwise you can report it on 105 or online.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer for PARS in Hawkes Bay contact Ruth on 022 602 0994 or email hawkesbay@manawatupars.org.nz


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