Crime in New Zealand
Crime in New Zealand is generally measured by the number of offences being reported to police per 100,000 people. However many crimes go unreported, especially sexual crimes, and do not appear in official statistics. Crime rates in New Zealand rose for much of the 20th century but began to decline during the 1990s (see graph).
- Crime statistics 1
- Crime rates 2
- Public perceptions of crime 3
- Characteristics of victims 4
- The drivers of crime 5
- Addressing the drivers of crime 6
- The relationship between crime and imprisonment 7
- Legislation and sentencing 8
- Law enforcement 9
- See also 10
- References 11
- Further reading 12
- External links 13
New Zealand Police publish monthly statistics for a range of crime indicators, as well as statistical reports for each calendar (ending 31 December) and fiscal (ending 30 June) year. Historically, New Zealand Police has published crime statistics either in or with its annual reports, from as early as 1900. Statistics New Zealand also publish recorded crime statistics, based on Police data, in a web application that can produce statistical tables for each offence code. Statistics New Zealand also publishes the results of its own research and analysis of crime statistics, based on data from Police, the Ministry of Justice and its own surveys. From 1 July 2010, statistics for the New Zealand Justice sector began using the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) to classify and aggregate offence statistics.
The Ministry of Justice has conducted Crime and Safety Surveys in 2006 and 2009 to assess victimisation rates as well as other research about crime in New Zealand. Victim surveys tend to suggest that less than a third of 'crime' is actually reported to Police which is consistent with victimisation surveys in similar countries such as Australia, Britain and the USA. However, victim surveys also include reports of relatively minor matters which would not necessarily be seen as crimes by the justice system so interpretation of the figures is difficult.
New Zealand's crime statistics are compounded by the over-representation of Maori. Though Maori make up only 12.5% of the general population aged 15 and over, 42% of all criminal apprehensions involve a person identifying as Maori, as do 50% of those in prison. For Maori women, the picture is even more acute: they comprise around 60% of the female prison population. A report by the Corrections Department says: "The figures lend themselves to extremist interpretations: at one end, some accuse the criminal justice system of being brutally racist, as either intentionally or unintentionally destructive to the interests and well-being of Māori as a people. At the other, there are those who dismiss the entire Māori race as constitutionally 'criminally inclined'."
Between 1998 and 2007, the police became more effective at resolving crimes such that the resolution rate has gone from about 36% of all reported crimes to nearly 50%. The trend has not continued and in 2012 the number of cases resolved dropped to 47%. For serious violence the resolution rate has gone from 71% to 80% and the murder resolution rate has gone from 62% to 91%. In the longer term, the percentages of resolved murder cases will be even higher as the Police report, that over time, they resolve close to 100% of all murder cases reported to them.
Despite different means of measuring crime, the statistics show that crime rates in New Zealand rose through most of the twentieth century, following similar patterns in other Western countries. Towards the end of the century, the rate dropped and has stabilised or continued to drop slowly since then. There has been much speculation about the causes of the turnaround. The impact of economic downturns, unemployment rates, local disasters, better security, changing demographic patterns, increased policing and various changes in the culture and life-style have all been examined. Collectively, all these factors may play a part.
The crime rate has continued to decline in the twenty-first century. In 2010, the number of murders in New Zealand dropped by nearly a quarter over the previous year (from 65 to 46), while overall reported crime fell 6.7 percent. In 2011, New Zealand's recorded crime rate was at its lowest in 15 years, down another 5.6% on the figures from 2010. In 2012 (financial year), the crime rate dropped another 5.9 per cent on the previous year - taking into account an increase in the population of 0.7%. Homicide and related offending dropped by 21.5%.
The total number of offences in 2012 was the lowest since 1989, and gave the lowest crime rate per head of population since before electronic records were maintained. Police said the largest decrease was in Canterbury, where recorded crime fell by over 11% - due to a large decrease in recorded theft and property damage offences immediately after the Christchurch earthquakes. However, this doesn't necessarily mean crime actually dropped. Deputy Police Commissioner Viv Rickard said "This decrease appears to be partly due to the public not wanting to bother us with minor matters when they knew we were dealing with the earthquake.
Sir David Carruthers, a former Chief District Court Judge and now head of the Independent Police Conduct Authority, says the drop in the crime rate in New Zealand is partly due to a drive to reduce the number of teenagers being suspended or expelled from school. Around 70% of the most serious youth offenders are not in school, and keeping them involved in education is the best way to reduce offending. Education Ministry figures show that school suspension rates have been declining for at least 12 years, from 7.9 for every 1000 students in 2000 to 5.2 in 2011. The decline has been most dramatic for Maori students - down from almost 20 to under 12 for every 1000 Maori students.
Kim Workman of Rethinking Crime & Punishment says another factor is the changing demographic in society; youths aged 18 to 24, who commit most crime, are a declining proportion of the ageing population. Recent changes in police strategy have also reduced the number of prosecutions in the past two years. Police are using diversion and warnings more frequently instead of charging minor offenders and are issuing safety orders for less serious domestic situations - which allow an offender to be ordered out of the house for up to five days without recording this as an offence. Figures released in 2012 show police have issued more than 32,000 warnings for petty crimes, resulting in a 10% drop in charges before district courts. The warnings are most commonly used to resolve disorderly behaviour and breach of liquor ban offences.
Public perceptions of crime
A Ministry of Justice study in 2003 found that 83% of New Zealanders held inaccurate and negative views about crime levels in society and 'wrongly believed' that crime was increasing. A more recent study in 2009 by Dr Michael Rowe, also from Victoria University, found "an overwhelming public belief that crime has got worse" despite New Zealand's murder rate dropping by almost half in the past 20 years. Reflecting the depth of these misperceptions, between 2006 and 2009, only 57% of New Zealanders reported feeling ‘safe’.
New Zealanders' perceptions of safety are also out of sync with the way the country is perceived internationally. In 2010 and 2011, New Zealand topped the Global Peace Index issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace - out of 149 countries. The index is based on 23 indicators including corruption, violence, crime rates, military spending and access to primary education. According to the 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, New Zealand is the least corrupt nation in the world.
Characteristics of victims
A victim survey undertaken in 1996 found that 67% of the population were not subject to any criminal activity, 14% suffered from two or more criminal offences, and 4% had been the victim of five or more criminal activities. The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey conducted in 2006 showed that Māori have a much higher risk of victimisation than other groups. The figures showed that each year around 47% of Māori were victims of crime and Māori were also more likely to be victimised multiple times (4.3 incidents per victim compared with 2.7 for European victims). The risk of victimisation for Māori was particularly high for serious offences, including sexual violence and violence by partners. For example, 8% of Māori women experienced sexual victimisation - twice as high as the national rate for women (4%).
Analysis of the 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey showed that a number of factors contribute to the high rate of victimisation of certain groups of Maori over other Maori. These included being young, being on a benefit, being single, living in a sole-parent household, living in neighbourhoods with high social disorder and being female.The survey also that offences involving violence by strangers and damage to property were less likely to be reported and that four in ten Māori were unable to name any community service that was available for victims.
The drivers of crime
A forum held at Parliament in 2009 on the Drivers of Crime in New Zealand identified mainly socio-economic factors contributing to crime such as: "Family dysfunction; child maltreatment; poor educational achievement; harmful drinking and drug use; poor mental health; severe behavioural problems among children and young people; and the intergenerational transmission of criminal behaviour." The forum noted that "Many of these issues are concentrated within socially and economically disadvantaged families and communities." In New Zealand, it seems these life circumstances are more likely to affect Maori families than non-Maori - which contributes to the comparatively high rates of offending by Maori. In 2010 the Law Commission released a report on the social destruction caused by alcohol in New Zealand and quoted district court judges who said that 80% of all offending in New Zealand occurred under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Addressing the drivers of crime
In 2009, following the Drivers of Crime forum, the National led Government established four priority areas to reduce crime in New Zealand. This included improving support for maternity services and early parenting, addressing conduct and behavioural problems in childhood, reducing the social destruction caused by alcohol (and increasing treatment options for problem drinkers), and improving the management of low-level repeat offenders.
Improving support for maternity services and early parenting is considered important because conduct and behavioural problems in childhood are an important predictor of later chronic antisocial behaviour, including crime. Interventions the National led Government has adopted in this area include increasing the number of intensive case workers to support vulnerable teenage parents and attempts to improve participation in early childhood education.
Addressing conduct and behavioural problems in young children is also important. The Justice Department says if early intervention with the five to ten per cent of children with the most severe conduct and behavioural problems is effective, this has the potential to reduce subsequent adult criminal activity by 50 to 70 per cent. A key government proposal in this area is the establishment of programmes to strengthen positive behaviour and reduce bullying at school. In 2008 three-quarters of primary school children reported being bullied, ranking New Zealand second worst out of 35 countries in a major international study. In 2012, youth helplines in New Zealand were still being inundated with soaring numbers of bullying-related calls; Youthline reported bullying-related calls jumped from 848 in 2010 to 3272 in 2012. The youth services say schools are failing to protect students.
To address the harm caused by alcohol, the Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a comprehensive investigation into New Zealand's liquor legislation. The Commission received thousands of submissions and their investigation took over two years leading to the release of a 500 page in-depth report: Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm. The Government incorporated many of the less important recommendations made by the Commission into the Alcohol Reform Bill. However, the Bill was widely criticised by health professionals for failing to address six key evidenced-based recommendations put forward by the Commission. The six included raising the price, making the extra revenue available for the treatment of problem drinkers, banning television and radio advertising of alcohol, reducing trading hours of bars and clubs, reducing the number of outlets allowed to sell alcohol and raising the purchase age back to 20 years. A NZ Herald on-line survey showed 80% of respondents thought the Government's reforms were a 'token gesture' or 'could be stricter'.
When the issue of the purchase age reached the floor of parliament in August 2012, MPs voted to keep the purchase age at 18. Around the same time, Justice Minister Judith Collins also revealed she had dumped a plan to ban the sale of RTDs (ready-to-drink) with more than 6 per cent alcohol content. After meeting with liquor industry representatives, Collins agreed to allow the liquor industry to make its own regulations on RTD's instead.
The relationship between crime and imprisonment
Despite the falling crime rate, New Zealand has followed the pattern of many Western countries by locking up more and more of its citizens. The number of people in prison has been growing steadily for the last 50 years and since 2010, the rate of imprisonment has been just under 200 per 100,000 of population. This gives New Zealand the second highest rate of imprisonment out of 29 countries in the West. New Zealand's rate is much higher than countries it tends to be compared with, such as Canada (117), Australia (129), England and Wales (154) and is more on par with many third world countries like Morocco (where the rate is 199), Gabon (196), and Namibia (191).
In New Zealand, as in most western democracies, the rate at which people are sent to prison primarily depends on trends in penal policy and sentencing law - in particular laws affecting the availability of community-based sentence options for judges, the use of remand, and the maximum length of sentences for any given offence. Penal policy is inevitably affected by the prevailing political climate. Indeed, Professor John Pratt of Victoria University in Wellington says that while crime is driven primarily by socio-economic factors, the growing rate of imprisonment in Western countries has been driven by penal populism - a process whereby the major political parties compete with each to be "tough on crime" by proposing laws which create longer sentences and increase the use of remand prior to sentencing. The news media contribute to penal populism by sensationalising violent crime and the process is fuelled by victims groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust vilifying judges, politicians and the Parole Board for failing to lock offenders up or keep them in prison.
In July 2009 Dame Sian Elias, the Chief Justice, argued against what she described as the "punitive and knee-jerk" responses to crime because of its potential consequences for prison overcrowding. In a controversial speech to the Wellington District Law Society, she called for a more rational approach to penal policy and said the focus on victims had made courtrooms "very angry places" and had put at risk the impartial system of deciding criminal blame. She also said that if action to address the growing prison population was not taken, Government might be pushed into the use of executive amnesties to reduce the growing prison population. In response, Minister of Justice Simon Power said "The Government is elected to set sentencing policy. Judges are appointed to apply it."
In addition to sending more and more people to prison, New Zealand also seems to have had a history of locking people up for relatively minor offences. In 1930, the Under Secretary for Prisons reported that "34% of the total number of persons committed to prison were serving terms of less than one month, 58% for terms of less than three months and 73% were for terms of less than six months". The proportion of people in prison for serious crimes was relatively small. Even today, 70% of all offenders in prison will be released within seven months.
Legislation and sentencing
New Zealand has codified its criminal law through various pieces of legislation. Most criminal offences that would result in imprisonment in New Zealand are set out in the Crimes Act 1961, including the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 - although criminal offences related to specific situations also appear in other legislation. Less serious breaches of the law are dealt with under legislation such as the Summary Offences Act 1981 and the Land Transport Act 1998 where penalties are more often a fine or other community sanctions rather than imprisonment. The decisions of the courts create what is called common law. Common law is based on precedents – decisions which are used as a guide, or as an authoritative rule, in later, similar cases. This plays a significant role in the sentencing process.
Several agencies enforce New Zealand criminal law, although the New Zealand Police is the national agency responsible for enforcing criminal and traffic law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace throughout New Zealand. The Police frequently co-operate with other enforcement agencies both on a case by case basis and also through multi-agency taskforces targeted at Organised and Transnational Crime.Fisheries, Immigration, Organised Crime, Serious Fraud, Aviation and Border Security all have dedicated enforcement agencies. In addition to Police, road controlling authorities, such as local city or district councils, have the power to enforce their own parking by-laws.
- Corruption in New Zealand
- Gangs in New Zealand
- Terrorism in New Zealand
- List of correctional facilities in New Zealand
- List of countries by incarceration rate
- Category:New Zealand criminals
- Large drop in reported crime, murder rate, 1 April 2011
- "Monthly Statistical Indicators".
- "Crime Statistics".
- "New Zealand Recorded Crime Tables".
- "Progress report for 2009 review of crime and criminal justice statistics: July 2011". p. 10.
- "Crime and Safety Survey".
- "The NZCASS in an International Context".
- Gabrielle Maxwell, Changing Crime Rates 1998 -2007, Paper prepared for “Addressing the causes of Offending” IPS Forum February 2009, p 2
- Over-representation of Maori in the criminal justice system, Policy, Strategy and Research Group, Department of Corrections, September 2007, p 6.
- Fewer crimes committed, solved
- Gabrielle Maxwell, Changing Crime Rates 1998 -2007, Paper prepared for “Addressing the causes of Offending” IPS Forum February 2009, p 4
- Gabrielle Maxwell, Changing Crime Rates 1998 -2007, Paper prepared for “Addressing the causes of Offending” IPS Forum February 2009, p 3
- 42,444 crimes reported in Wellington, DominionPost 2 April 2012
- NZ crime rate at all-time low - Police, NZ Herald 1 October 2012
- Schools do their bit to cut crime NZ Herald 28 November 2012
- Warnings reduce court load, NZ Herald 3 December 21012
- Attitudes to Crime and Punishment: A New Zealand Study, Ministry of Justice, Wellington, 2003, pp. 4 & 66
- Collins, Simon (7 April 2009). "NZ murder rate halved in past 20 years". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- Human Development Report 2010 - 20th Anniversary Edition, United Nations, p 180.
- ‘Peace index ranks Canada 14th in world’, The Canadian Press, 8 June 2010.
- "Somalia most corrupt in world".
- Crime in New Zealand: a statistical profile, Parliamentary library
- A profile of victimisation in New Zealand, Ministry of Justice website
- New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey 2006 - Analysis of the Māori experience, Ministry of Justice website
- Addressing the Drivers of Crime, Ministry of Justice, 17 December 2009, 2009 p 3, para 14
- Alcohol In Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, New Zealand Law Commission, April 2010
- Drivers of crime priority areas, Ministry of Justice.
- Improving maternity and early parenting support.
- Addressing conduct and behavioural problems in childhood
- NZ schools lead world in bullying Dominion Post 14 december 2008
- What needs to be done to reduce bullying at school? NZ Herald 7 May 2012
- Alcohol Action New Zealand
- Alcohol reforms too diluted for public taste, NZ Herald 28 August 2012
- Alcohol bill diluted to an insipid brew, NZ Herald, 29 August 2011
- Alcohol reforms 'watered down'
- No age rise for alcohol sales, DomPost 30 August 2012
- 6% alcohol limit for RTDs dumped, Dominion Post 23 August 2112
- Liquor lobbyists press Collins, Dominion Post 25 November 2012
- International Centre for Prison Studies
- International Centre for Prison Studies
- New penology and new policies, On-line Resource Centre P 10
- Pratt, John; Clark, Marie (2005). "Penal populism in New Zealand".
- Judy McGregor, 'Crime News: The Cutting Edge' in What's news? Reclaiming Journalism in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, 2002, p 88-91
- Chief Justice suggests amnesty to clear jails, NZ Herald, 16 July 2009
- Editorial: Populist pitch on justice just posturing, NZ Herald 26 August 2010
- Dame Sian Elias (9 July 2009). "Blameless Babes – Address to the Wellington District Law Society". The New Zealand Herald.
- Espiner, Colin (2009-07-17). "Minister tells judge to butt out". The Press. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
- Politics and Punitiveness – Limiting the Rush to Punish, Kim Workman Executive Director, Rethinking Crime and Punishment, November 2011
- Report of the Under Secretary of Prisons (Wellington: AJHR H20, 1930)
- How laws are made, Decisionmaker website
- Newbold, Greg (2000). Crime in New Zealand. New Plymouth NZ: Dunmore Press.
- New Zealand Police
- Statistics New Zealand – Crime and justice page
- New Zealand Criminal Markets
- Rethinking Crime and Punishment organisation