Driving assessment

Children’s commissioner calls on government to act on crime wave

This Icebreaker store at Auckland Airport was raided yesterday. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

The Children’s Commissioner has called on the government to intervene after a series of crimes allegedly committed by children as young as 7 during school holidays.

“It has to happen now because these young people, I’m sure they hurt inside,” said judge Frances Eivers. Herald on Sunday.

“They’re just babies, they’re just young children.”

At least 45 children or teenagers are believed to be behind eight crimes such as burglaries and ram raids reported during school holidays.

Twenty-three people face charges in district court or juvenile court, or are referred to youth aid – the other half are still at large.

The holiday started with two teenagers seriously assaulted at a party at a Remuera home on the Thursday before Easter and ended yesterday with a group of youngsters raiding an Icebreaker clothing store near Auckland airport .

Eivers said whānau struggling with the cost of living, the impact of Covid-19 and rangatahi not being in school, or idle children could be behind the crime wave.

Children's Commissioner Judge France Eivers.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Children’s Commissioner Judge France Eivers. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Oranga Tamariki said most of the people involved in the recent spike are children she already works with.

“Imagine if you come from a family where there’s not a lot of money, where there’s no food in the cupboard, where dad might be in jail, or where there’s domestic violence” , Eivers said.

Although these crimes occur during school holidays, she suspects that the young people involved have not been to school for a long time.

The government is set to announce a program to tackle stubbornly high levels of school absenteeism, with more than 40% of pupils no longer attending school regularly – an increase of 10 percentage points since 2015, with huge disparities for Maori and Pacific children and under. income households.

Eivers said these children deserve the opportunity to thrive rather than being put in jail.

She said the government must direct community leaders to work with people like iwi, local police and Oranga Tamariki social workers to find a solution.

And affected communities had to wonder how these young people got into such a position, Eivers said. She said it was hard enough being a teenager at the best of times.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Richard Chambers.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Assistant Commissioner of Police Richard Chambers. Photo/Mark Mitchell

In the past two weeks, young teenagers have reportedly broken into cars on the Kāpiti coast, a 7-year-old has been involved in a burglary at a Hamilton shopping center and a group drove through an Auckland shopping center , raiding rams.

Three people holding hammers reportedly fled from a Gray Lynn dairy late at night and into a car with a 12-year-old girl driving.

The vehicle then slid into a tree. The police found a sports bag full of stolen cigarettes.

Eivers acknowledged that those involved should be held accountable for their actions, but she said the answer was not to punish them.

“We don’t want that to happen and we don’t want that kind of offense to continue.”

She said all kids make stupid mistakes.

“That’s why we adults are supposed to go out and we have to make sure they’re safe. We have to teach them, help them make good decisions.”

Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Chambers said the reasons young people were involved in these types of crimes were complex.

He said contributing factors included the disengagement of children from school and their families, the influence of social media and the value of stolen property.

Chambers said the problem was not new and pointed to a spike in recent months of youths involved in such crimes in areas of the country such as Tāmaki Makaurau and Waikato.

“The police take this offense seriously and we actively investigate and respond to these incidents when they occur.

“When we identify young offenders, we engage partner agencies to address some of the larger issues in their environment that may lead them to delinquency.”

Chambers said police recognize the distress and frustration these crimes have caused business owners in the community.

Youth director Oranga Tamariki, Judge Ben Hannifin, told 1News over the weekend that the situation was heartbreaking.

He said Oranga Tamariki met with the police daily.

“We communicate with the police to find out what happened the night before and if there are young people in custody, then we react in a way depending on what we are working with.

“Our staff will [a] a really comprehensive assessment of them and their family to understand what drove the behavior and what may be really different depending on the young person or their family.”