Retail crime: Anger spills onto the streets as shop owners call for harsher penalties


Protest call to stop retail crime (Photo supplied)

Venu Menon
Wellington, July 3,2024

With South Auckland business owners taking to the streets on Tuesday to highlight violent crime and the sense of insecurity rife in their neighbourhoods, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon is doubling down on the tried-and-tested Limited Service Volunteer (LSV) course that the government’s proposed military-style academies for troubled youth are  modelled on.

But the six-week LSV programme, run by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in the past, has forced the coalition government on the back foot, with Police Minister Mark Mitchell having to fend off questions around the trauma suffered by both participants and staff.

But votaries of the programme commend the LSV course for its focus on imparting “life skills like how to give interviews, talking about nutrition, to manage mood,” and so on.

They say the programme fosters discipline in 17- to 24-year-olds, some of whom for the first time “were required to get out of bed, make the bed, get their clothes on and be organised for the day by a certain time.”

Prime Minister Luxon picks up on that theme, saying that in the first three months, the programme is “going to be a lot about discipline, around habits, around team-work, around some physical exercise.”

But he is quick to include a key element in the mix: community support. “From day one, there will also be the community organisations in there.”

Legislation remains the government’s fallback solution.

“Where needed, we will put the House into urgency to pass legislation,” Luxon says, adding, “It’s up to police on how they operationalise the legislation that enables them to take a harder line on gangs, and there’s discussions still ongoing about that.”

The government’s dilemma is that military-style academies, its key panacea for spiralling violent crime, is getting a poor reception and gaining little traction all round.

The business owners, who bear the brunt of retail crime, are cynical of boot camps. So is, by all accounts, the Defence Force on whom the success of the programme hinges.

The prevailing wisdom within the government and community organisations is centred on rehabilitation rather than punishment. But mentoring young offenders out of a life of crime is an incremental and evolutionary process that is out of step with the urgent redressal demanded by the victims of crime.

That is the message beamed to the authorities by protesters on the streets of Papatoetoe.

Prime Minister Luxon and his coalition government are having to strike a balance between losing no time in stopping violent crime that is out of control, and letting young offenders take the time they need to grow out of an entrenched pattern of reoffending.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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