National has for some time trumpeted a reduction in crime rates as being a vindication of its policies. This is despite a reduction being a world wide trend linked to reduced lead levels in petrol. But recent news suggests that there may be a more local reason. Because it seems clear that domestic violence offending in New Zealand is being under reported.
New figures issued by the Family Violence Clearinghouse at Auckland University show that charges for male assaults against female, applications for protection orders and prosecutions for breaches of protection orders all increased up to 2009-10, but have all fallen since then by between 14 per cent and 29 per cent.
The number of police investigations into family violence incidents kept on climbing from 86,800 in 2010 to 95,100 incidents last year.
But the number of investigations that led to an offence being recorded dropped from 45,500 to 37,900 – from 52 per cent of all incidents investigated in 2010 to 40 per cent last year.
Women’s Refuge policy and research officer Kiri Hannifin said the figures were alarming.
“I find it extraordinary,” she said.
The decline coincided with a new power given to police from July 2010 to issue “police safety orders”, which require an alleged offender to leave the family home for a few days, she said. The orders were supposed to fill a gap in cases where there was no evidence of an offence, but Ms Hannifin said they appeared to be linked to fewer offences being recorded.
“The question to be asked is whether or not [recorded] offences are so low because police safety orders are being used inappropriately.”
So investigations into family violence incidents are increasing significantly but the number of reported offences are dropping. And this lets National claim that it is getting on top of the crime problem.
Andrew Little was interviewed and claimed that there had been pressure on police to reduce crime statistics. Head of the Criminal Bar Association Tony Bouchier, a former police officer, thought that the causes for the reduction were more nuanced and more to do with budgetary pressures than an overt desire to reduce crime numbers but he did make the point that he was seeing less and less low level offending such as possession of cannabis, street offending or breaches of liquor bans being prosecuted in Court.
And as pointed out by Jane Drumm also in the Herald article …
… prosecutions had also dropped because of new prosecution guidelines issued by the Crown Law Office in 2010, and updated in 2013, which “raised the bar” of evidence required for prosecutions.
The new guidelines encouraged prosecutors to make “plea arrangements” with defence lawyers where “releasing the saved costs in court and judicial time, prosecution costs and legal aid resources [could] be better deployed in other areas”.
Ms Hannifin said: “We are dealing with a police force that has been told to lower the [reported] crime rate, we have a court system that has been told to speed up and save costs, and we have an issue that isn’t spoken about very much.”
The increase in domestic violence incidents shows that David Cunliffe’s call for action to be totally appropriate. His concerns are obviously appropriate given that the incidence of domestic violence in New Zealand is getting worse.
National’s claims of a falling crime rate need to be treated with a degree of scepticism. And Labour’s proposed policies to eliminate violence against women and children which would be led by the Prime Minister’s Department is a perfectly appropriate response to an issue that is getting worse.