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Crime rises, Nats’ get tough policies have no effect

Written By: - Date published: 9:21 am, January 13th, 2010 - 62 comments
Categories: crime, national/act government - Tags:

You might recall that a bit over a year ago a salesman in a nice suit with a nice smile came and sold us a brighter future. We haven’t seen all that much of that salesman since then but we can remember what he promised to deliver in that ‘brighter future’. We even have the billboards.

There was higher incomes (through the magic of tax cuts), there was ultra-fast broadband (now rebranded as merely ‘fast broadband’), we were going to get “more doctors, more nurses, less bureaucrats” (and, presumably, betterer teachers), and National promised to “make our neighbourhoods safer: tougher bail, sentencing, and parole”. I might come back to some of the others in future posts but, for now, let’s look at the last one.

National did indeed change parole and bail laws but did it do anything? Has that reduced crime to “make our neighbourhoods safer” as promised? Because if it hasn’t, they’re just a wasting time and taxpayer money.

Well, surprise, surprise, crime hasn’t fallen since National passed these laws under Urgency in December 2008. In the six months following their passing, crime rose by nearly 5% compared to the same period in the previous year (population growth was 1.1%, btw).

OK, I can hear you righties already – ‘six months isn’t long enough. These policies, despite having the immediate effect of keeping more people in jail longer, need time to bring the crime rate down’.

Well, the full year crime stats aren’t out for a while yet but because there are relatively few of them and they all get reported under the joyful Herald’s ‘assault and homicide’ tag I was able to count up the killings (murder + manslaughter) in the last six months and compare with the total with past stats. I wouldn’t reccommend it – not a lot of fun.

And not a good result for the ‘Lock ’em Up Longer’ brigade. Killings rose from 34 in the six months before National’s ‘get tough’ laws were passed to 36 in the next six months, and 44 in the last six months. Of course, random clusters happen with relatively uncommon events but 44 in the last six months is the 3rd worse toll in the last 15 years, the 5th worse allowing for population growth. It doesn’t look like the Nats’ ‘tough’ crime policies have done anything to reduce the worst offences.

My point here is not to blame the Government for these killings. Most homicides are the result of a lethal combination of passing rage, stupidity, and intoxication, and mostly it’s family, friends, and partners, not criminal strangers.

What I am trying to show is how foolish it is to claim that a ‘good dose of law and order’ will magically prevent crime. National’s policies have done nothing to reduce homicides and other crime because their formula simply doesn’t work.

A Government that really wanted to reduce crime, rather than one that was simply pandering to populism to get elected, would concerntrate on the well-known and understood causes of crime – the biggest of which are unemployment-induced poverty and deprivation.

62 comments on “Crime rises, Nats’ get tough policies have no effect”

  1. tsmithfield 1

    How about this possibility Marty.

    Up until recently people haven’t bothered reporting a lot of crimes because they thought nothing would get done about it anyway.

    Since the changes to the laws with respect to crime people now feel like something will happen if they report crime, so they are more willing to take action and actually report crime.

    • Bill 1.1

      All those unreported murders, eh?

    • Bright Red 1.2

      Even the slightest bit of evidence to support your claim that crimes weren’t being reported in the past?

      No. Just another rightwing myth.

      Even the slightest bit of evidence that chagnes to parole and bail laws have affected people’s likelihood to reports crimes? No, of course not. God, I feel sorry for your employer if that’s the kind of logic you use in your work.

      You do realise that to claim insurance after a burglary, you need a police report, eh?

      • Crash Cart 1.2.1

        Didn’t the left use the same reasoning to explain the increased number of reported child abuse incidents after the introduction of the changes to section 59? I remember hearing it trotted out that there had been a change in attitude and that more people were reporting incidents as opposed to more people falling within the scope of the law.

        • IrishBill 1.2.1.1

          Nope. You’re thinking of the spike in reporting of domestic abuse following the “it’s not OK” campaign.

          While that’s still a correlative rather than causative analysis it’s one that is a lot more plausible than tsmiths as, unlike burglaries, stranger assaults and homicides, domestic violence has proven under-reporting rates.

        • Sam 1.2.1.2

          Yes because domestic abuse and murders are the same thing.

  2. sweetd 2

    I am sure being in a recession (for part of the period) and high unemployment due to the recession have major impacts on crime levels.

    What can’t be proven is what level homicides would be at without the nats crime policies. One can only speculate, it may have been higher or lower.

    My point is, you can not address this this in the simplistic way, that is, nats crime policies are ineffective when you can not measure the effect that major recessions are having on society.

    • Rob Carr 2.1

      Except the Nats job is to fix our recession and not see us go though a doubling in our unemployment rate since April 2008. Australia had only around a 50% increase. Maybe if we put our money into fixing out economy rather than keeping people locked up longer we would have a whole lot less crime.

  3. Pete 3

    Really tsf?

    Even conidering the well established correlation between the causes of crime (as Marty notes) and rises in criminal ‘events’.

    This is not something that is simply reflected in statistics because people feel “like something will happen”, more likely it is due to rising unemployment numbers (see Household Labour Force survey etc) and not much of anything being done about the increasing numbers of NZers living in poverty (same again, including work done by academics and NGOs) education not catering to all (I know let’s standardise! and create ‘Aspire’ scholarships – based on a lottery!), and opportunities being lost to work on the real causes of crime at an early age (early childhood development – ie appropriate (more and better) resources for carers and educators, food provided to kids who don’t have lunch/breakfast etc).

    P.S. you can google all this in case you want to know.

  4. Scott 4

    Marty, I have some sympathy for your view that locking more people up may be counterproductive.

    But I’m not sure these stats prove the Nats’ law and order policies are a bust. A number of law and order measures put forward by the Nats are still working themselves through the parliamentary process. So it may be too early to see any correlation between National’s law and order policy and crime increases.

    And let’s be fair. We should not forget that Labour when in power also pursued a law and order agenda. Neither of the major parties has the political courage to call bullshit on the law and order mob.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      We should not forget that Labour when in power also pursued a law and order agenda. Neither of the major parties has the political courage to call bullshit on the law and order mob.

      Unfortunately true.

    • Rob Carr 4.2

      Hopefully one day our government will grow a backbone and do it…

  5. Sanctuary 5

    I think we have to escape from the race to see who is the first political party to bring back hanging for stealing sheep.

  6. snoozer 6

    sweetd, scott.

    Surely, we can expect something from government. Surely we can expect that their policies that they say will reduce crime actually will result in less crime.

    Is that too much to ask?

    • Scott 6.1

      Not at all. But if we want to throw the stats back in their face and say “ha! Not working!” we need to give them time to actually implement their policies.

      Otherwise they will just blame the stats on Labour being soft on crims. And people will believe them.

  7. Brett 7

    What would be more effective is that any one convicted of a imprisonable offence should be automatically sentenced to the maximum amount.
    Then if the individual shows they have been reformed they then have a chance of being released early.
    For this to work effectively prison sentences would have to be increased greatly to give prisoners the motivation to make changes

    It’s crazy releasing someone back into the community who is highly likely going to re offend just because their sentence is up.

    • lprent 7.1

      Like that guy who killed a tagger?

    • IrishBill 7.2

      That’s called preventative detention and we already have it.

      • Brett 7.2.1

        I was thinking more along these lines for example:
        Guy gets done for home invasion and beats some one half to death automatic 50 years.
        If he shows remorse and can prove that he is no longer a danger to society he may get out in 10 years. If he can’t be rehabilitated he’s basically there for life.

        • Crash Cart 7.2.1.1

          Similar to something I hear on Radio live a while back. When you are found guilty of a crime you are automatically sent up for a set period of time. However once in side you can earn credits by carrying out courses and restitution (be it meeting victims or paying for damage)being carried out. Credits take time off your sentence.

          • lprent 7.2.1.1.1

            Sounds like a system that will get lawyered pretty promptly.

          • Rob Carr 7.2.1.1.2

            Theoretically a good idea but seems like it would be full of loopholes and release people early who are dangerous while keeping people others in longer than they need to be simply because they do not have enough points. I would rather know they are really good at not committing crime than really good at doing maths.

    • So first time drunk driving offenders go to jail?

      Better start building those prisons!

      • Crash Cart 7.3.1

        Bad example in my opinion. Drunk driver should go to jail. I personally think that legalizing drugs is the answer to over crowded prisons and would lower crime rates across the board but that’s a different topic all together.

  8. tsmithfield 8

    Bright-Red “Even the slightest bit of evidence that chagnes to parole and bail laws have affected people’s likelihood to reports crimes? No, of course not. God, I feel sorry for your employer if that’s the kind of logic you use in your work.”

    Labour advanced the very same reason for the increase in reported domestic violence crime after the campaign drawing attention to domestic violence.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      And was reasonable for that particular increase as people were more confident than previously of reporting domestic violence. There’s been nothing to change peoples reporting habits of other crimes.

    • Rob Carr 8.2

      Because their campaign was to increase the reporting of crime. Harsher penalties are likely to reduce reporting of crime because people do not wish to see them be punished excessively.

  9. prism 9

    A crime reduction in New York gets quoted often. Theories from the get tough on the broken window pane level so nipping bad behaviour in the bud, or shifting on the shiftless to other areas, or the decline in births in a significant female population have been touted.
    I am just starting on an old book about Frank Serpico, NY cop who didn’t accept the ingrained police corruption and protection rackets even if on a small scale. It will be interesting to see how bad habits in police attitudes might affect crime statistics.
    Working with families from the beginning would save big bucks – different paths need to be offered. Think of the recent guy who did something awful, started prospecting for a patch at 13 and now he is going to jail as a young man after hurting somebody sufficiently nastily, he will probably be accepted into the gang. I am relieved to hear that
    Rufus Junior Marsh is dead. Chances are he was dragged up as a wee one, very sad when people go bad. There is no changing really bad people either. So more support for parents with young children with good mentors would pay heaps.

  10. Anthony Karinski 10

    Why not just have a bit of a public flogging instead of jail time? Would satisfy the hang them high brigade and the criminal school environment of jails would be dismantled.

  11. Bored 11

    Just to be really contentious, why dont National come down really hard on corporate crime, tax rorts, and other financially based criminal acts? I might venture (just to be contentious again) that calling for a harder response to crime (as the Right constantly does) raises the spectre of distinct double standards.

    • Rob Carr 11.1

      Because what they really want is protection for their stolen money being stolen from them and figure no-one else is smart enough to do it the financial way?

  12. Pascal's bookie 12

    nah. What’s happening see, is those crims know that strikes and The Garrot are coming. Naturally they are getting their murders in before then.

  13. Bill 13

    Does the fact that the two biggest parties vie with one another on ‘Get Tough on ( some types of ) Crime’ have anything to do with the Corporate inspired ‘Lean, Mean’ Capitalist Machine’ that has been forced on us over recent decades?

    Both discourses tend to disregard or/and discount humanity and assume the theoretical has a broader scope and greater depth than reality, which is pinched, squeezed and twisted to fit the theoretical frames of reference or discarded as irrelevant if it cannot be made to fit.

    One extreme expression of the blow back from the pressures caused by all this poverty of imagination and intellect is the growing incidence of individuals dealing with situations by employing lethal force, ie. ‘Going Postal’.

    And it seems the NZ government is happy enough to respond, not by pausing for reflection, but by screwing the lid down even tighter.

    e.g. Putting the army on the streets to back up the police. (Jan Molenaar). By having an armed defender squad that seems to be called on at the slightest and slimmest excuse. By having a shoot to kill policy when fire arms are used ( Three shots to the head = a single response) By arming police with tasers. By moving inexorably towards having the police armed.

    And all within an ever more proscriptive legislative framework which forms but a part of a wider environment where a rule exists, censure awaits and a verbotten mentality squats over even quite mundane expressions of individuality ( not to be confused with individualism) and freedom.

    btw. Which all amounts to a very definite effect of ‘Get Tough’ and concomitant policies and mentalities

    • prism 13.1

      Moving towards an armed police force, tasers etc.
      There is a big business in supplying police forces that holds conventions in USA. Police have a look at all the serious tools available and want what the others have. The advent of crazy people on drug mixes and their behaviour would make me want to have access to tasers. But once they get these weapons can we trust that their use will be as a last resort.
      We have all seen video clips of a cop overseas using cruel taser force on someone who is just not co-operating and in the innocent till proved guilty bracket.
      The police stop and search practice is a harrassment to ordinary people, and happens too regularly. It will cause more acts of defiance and anger with abusive reaction which make the police feel vulnerable, and so it goes.
      Setting roadside checkpoints should be a rare occurrence used when there is a special need.

  14. Lindsay 14

    “A Government that really wanted to reduce crime, rather than one that was simply pandering to populism to get elected, would concerntrate on the well-known and understood causes of crime the biggest of which are unemployment-induced poverty and deprivation.”

    Except the violent crime rate in NZ flat-lined through 1994-04 (2004 was when unemployment reached a record low) at around 110 offences per 10,000 and grew from then.

    A Wall St Journal claims that those reasons have been demolished by crime continuing to plummet in the US.

    Excerpt; The recession of 2008-09 has undercut one of the most destructive social theories that came out of the 1960s: the idea that the root cause of crime lies in income inequality and social injustice. As the economy started shedding jobs in 2008, criminologists and pundits predicted that crime would shoot up, since poverty, as the “root causes” theory holds, begets criminals. Instead, the opposite happened. Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s. The consequences of this drop for how we think about social order are significant.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703580904574638024055735590.html

    • snoozer 14.1

      Lindsay, total crime fell in step with unemployment for the decade until 2009. http://www.thestandard.org.nz/might-be-taken-the-wrong-way-by-some/

      No serious person would take some trumped up idiot in the Wall Street Journal as a source. The fall in recorded crime in the US almost certainly has its roots in the slashing of police budgets http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/10/23/police.economy/

      • Pete 14.1.1

        According to the article the author is a contributing editor to the Mannhattan Institute’s City Journal.

        The Manhattan Institute has a nice wee mission statement:
        “The mission of the Manhattan Institute is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility”.

        Sounds like a Libertarian/ACT hybrid of one-eyed bollocks to me. I also quite enjoy the “new ideas” part…

        And of course you get the idea of where Lindsay is coming from by reading her press releases.

        For the record – I’d prefer to see the development of policies and/or programmes that reduce social injustice and income inequality anyway (for all the harm they do to society – regardless of the impact on crime). But unfortunately blind ideology means that we should maintain the ‘aspirational’ leanings of the conservative asses here and in the States.

        I reckon we wait to see whether snoozer or Scott’s theories prove true before jumping on Lindsay’s bandwagon.

    • Scott 14.2

      There was a drop in crime overall in the US in 2009. But it may not be quite that simple. The FBI statistics show that some of the US cities hardest hit by the recession (e.g. Detroit) saw crime rates rise.

      There may well be a lag between the onset of a recession and resultant criminal activity. It may be premature to conclude poverty and unemployment are not causes of crime. Let’s wait to see whether there really is a downward trend, or whether this is a blip.

  15. Lindsay 15

    Snoozer, That’s an interesting graph. Worth a blog post.

    http://lindsaymitchell.blogspot.com/2010/01/unemployment-and-crime-according-to.html

    Is CNN a more reliable source than The Wall St Journal?

    Pete, I resigned from ACT early last year. And I am not a conservative. I believe that family/whanau breakdown is the major contributor to crime and welfare has been instrumental in causing that breakdown. If we went at the problem with that in mind the need to lock more and more people up and take a punitive approach to justice would reduce.

    • snoozer 15.1

      Lindsay. Are you more illiterate or innumerate? You wrote:

      “This “conversation” came out of a post they did today which was actually about violent crime and how it has risen under National. But it had been rising under Labour too.”

      Wrong on two points:
      1) the post is not about violent crime, it is about all crime and uses homicides for the last six months because Marty was able to count them himself
      2) it’s not about how crime has risen under National. It’s about National’s policies have failed to make crime fall as promised. Big difference

      and you wrote:

      “Or let’s put it another way. A forty five percent drop in unemployment, which delivered maybe a 10 percent drop in crime, does not show a strong association.”

      Basic innumeracy here. A strong correlation does not mean that a 1% change in one variable is associated with a 1% change in another variable. It means that a change of X% in one variable is usually associated with a change in Y% of the other variable. So, a 10% decrease in unemployment might be associated with a 2% decrease in crime (interesting that you yourself admit a casual link – “which delivered”). There is a very strong association between unemloyment and crime. 0.916 is a very strong correlation. Nearly perfect.

      And it matters. If unemployment goes from 3.5% to 6.5%, the correlation identified by Marty suggests there will be an increase in crime from under 0.1 offences per person to 0.115, a 15% increase. That’s about 50,000-60,000 more offences across the country.

    • Pete 15.2

      Lindsay – I wasn’t suggesting you were conservative or otherwise (ie make your own mind up by reading the press releases you’ve published in recent years).

      Broadly speaking I was suggesting that we never fix the societal problems that cause criminal behaviour (or social injustice/income inequality) because we follow ideology (the capitalist construct) blindly – adn without the necessary checks and balances (see ’causes of the recession (Freddie Mac, Fanny May etc’, ‘tax evasion by the big baks’ and so on). That goes for Labour of late too – though they weren’t really following the traditional Labour ideology, I’d say its obvious to all and sundry that they are not-so-closet conservatives themselves on a few major issues – crime and immigration spring imediately to mind.

      I’m sure most people would agree that a person’s family situation is a major contributor to that person’s wellbeing – and therefore a potential contributor to criminal behaviour. However, it is just one contributor (along with health and educational opportunities and support for example).

      Simply put, I think it’s using pretty broad strokes to say welfare=family breakdown=crime. And I’d be interested to know how you define ‘family breakdown’. Can you elaborate?

  16. What are the stats for minor crimes?

    • Armchair Critic 16.1

      Bill English has been trying hard to contribute to those stats. Paula Bennett too. Maybe Richard Worth, but JK won’t confirm either way.

    • Eddie 16.2

      What’s a minor crime and what’s a major one, Brett?

      The stats are fully available to the public on the stats website. If you want to know something about them, work it out yourself, then share with us. We’re not your research team.

  17. For Pete’s sake Lindsay, stick to art.

  18. Lindsay 18

    Snoozer said, If unemployment goes from 3.5% to 6.5%, the correlation identified by Marty suggests there will be an increase in crime from under 0.1 offences per person to 0.115, a 15% increase. That’s about 50,000-60,000 more offences across the country.

    Actually, roughly the inverse did happen. Unemployment went from 7.2% to 3.4% with a drop of around 7% or 31,000 offences (1999 – 2005).

    So what is accounting for the other 400,000 offences? You can show a correlation at the margin but that is not the same as what is claimed in this post ;

    “A Government that really wanted to reduce crime, rather than one that was simply pandering to populism to get elected, would concerntrate on the well-known and understood causes of crime the biggest of which are unemployment-induced poverty and deprivation.”

    If the biggest cause of crime was unemployment induced poverty then when the unemployment rate dropped by over 50 percent there should have been a much larger drop in crime. Didn’t happen.

    I am not disputing that unemployment is a factor in crime. I am disputing that it is as important as you, or the writer of the post, believe it to be.

    And I dispute it only because if we continue pursuing policies based on wrong assumptions matters are not going to improve.

    Pete, Family breakdown. Not only the move away from stable and secure two parent families (plenty of single parents do a great job but top of the list for youth offenders is being fatherless – Andrew Becroft) but, as important, the breakdown of extended whanau. Grandparents play an important role in Maori families. Many young Maori have become estranged through urbanisation and gangs become family for young men who are redundant thanks to welfare. Another factor leading to crime is maternal youth. Because babies are not taken into the whanau as was traditionally the case they end up being raised by mothers that cannot cope, or are removed and begin on a procession of fostercare/CYF homes, also shown to be a frequent pathway to jail.

    Fizzlebug, I have nothing against adoption – gay or otherwise.

    Galeandra, Probably good advice. My parents would agree. They fail to understand why I keep worrying about the problems of the world. Or trying to comprehend them.

    • Pete 18.1

      Lindsay – as I’ve already said, I don’t think you’ll get any argument about family issues being a major contirubutor to criminal behaviour.

      But I’m really a bit unsure about the thinking you have posed – particularly:
      “Many young Maori have become estranged through urbanisation and gangs become family for young men who are redundant thanks to welfare”

      Redundant THANKS TO WELFARE – that’s an odd position to take. How is the existence of welfare making people redundant exactly?

      Also, apart from this I don’t see the correlation between crime and welfare in what you’ve mentioned. Is the reason why fatherless kids are predominantly youth offenders a product of being fatherless (not having a role model, support etc) or because (and this is a stretch) the mother is on welfare. It’s a long bow you are drawing here…

    • Zetetic 18.2

      No-one ever said poverty was the sole cause of crime. It’s obviously a large one. Increased unemployment results in more crime. Strong correlation.

      You’re a testement to the fact that you can be a commentator in this country and not have a clue what you’re talking about.

  19. Big Bruv 19

    Don’t confuse these fools with facts Lindsay, they have trouble with the truth.

    [lprent: I always thought you had a problem with thinking rather than facts.

    For instance you’d just finishing waffling about tolerance for debate at KB about the time that all of my comments disappeared. That was very funny because it was obvious that was what was going to happen, and was in fact what I was testing..

    The divergence between your thinking on ‘reality’ and evidential facts is rather large. In fact, I suspect it enters the delusional state. ]

  20. There is no genuine discussion or learning here. There is only entrenchment. I guess thats fine – its your blog.

    • gitmo 20.1

      Nah everyone’s just bored with the lack of news at the moment and still grumpy about the election loss and Key’s popularity, therefor you get the wild bitching and side issues a bit like talk back post an Allblacks loss

      Often there is useful and interesting debate here….. probably wait until Feb and then come back.

  21. roger nome 21

    yeah – wh needs analysis and debate when you’ve got the psychic “gitmo” telling you what your thoughts are….. it’s not that Key’s an incompetant PR creation shell of a PM that’s pissing you off, it’s that you’re just a sore loser. you really should get to know yourself better…

    • gitmo 21.1

      [deleted]

      [lprent: I can give you more time to find one yourself. Insults without a point irritate me. ]

  22. Lindsay 22

    Pete, “Redundant” as in having no purpose. Mothers do not need the fathers of their children around when welfare will provide just as well financially.

    Fatherless kids are more likely to get in trouble. The availability of welfare increases the number of fatherless children. Numerous studies have shown the higher the welfare rate, the higher the single parent family rate (notwithstanding there is a large difference between a single parent family that has arisen from separation or divorce and one where a father has never been present.)

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