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Ardern grapples with NZ crime challenge

New Zealand’s government and opposition are at loggerheads on how to confront youth crime as the death of a dairy worker in Auckland shocks Kiwis.

November 28, 2022
By Ben McKay
28 November 2022

The violent murder of a dairy worker has become emblematic of Auckland’s crime woes, deepening troubles for Jacinda Ardern’s government.

On Sunday, Ms Ardern attended the funeral for Janak Patel, who was killed while running the dairy – which Kiwis call a corner store – in the heart of the prime minister’s electorate.

“An individual’s life has been taken and a family’s life has been shattered. It was deeply, deeply moving,” Ms Ardern told TVNZ.

Police have charged a 34-year-old man with murder and aggravated robbery and two others with robbery.

The dairy, a cherished part of Kiwi culture, has become a crime flashpoint in recent months due to an uptick in opportunistic ram-raids and offences.

Particularly young offenders – some as young as 10 – are targeting dairies as well as liquor stores, jewellers, and tech businesses in smash-and-grab burglaries that are costing retailers dearly and can end in violent confrontation.

Mr Patel’s case was particularly tragic.

His funeral service heard he and his wife dreamt of running their own business and relocated to Auckland a week earlier to mind the Rose Cottage Superette while the owners were away.

The crime uptick would be a state matter in Australia but in New Zealand, without a federal system of government, the responsibility – and the blame – falls to the top office in the land.

Despite hiring hundreds more police officers, the government has struggled to convince Kiwis it can keep streets safe.

The prime minister sacked police minister Poto Williams in June, citing a failing “narrative” around crime, replacing her with senior minister and trusted friend Chris Hipkins.

The government believes the number of ram raids spiked in August as police confront a small group responsible for most of the crime.

However, each ram raid or attack brings questions over its approach to crime, with the opposition insisting it should harden up.

Opposition Leader Chris Luxon, who visited Mr Patel’s dairy on Saturday with flowers, has promised a series of tough-on-crime measures if he wins next year’s election.

Measures include electronic monitoring ankle bracelets for 10-year-olds and a military-run boot camp for 15-year-olds should they re-offend.

Ms Ardern has pushed back against those measures, citing a lack of evidence.

“No one supports increases in crime. No one wants to see young people engaging in criminality,” she said. 

“The only debate should be what works.

“History has told us boot camps don’t work. They have an incredibly high reoffending rate.”

Cabinet will address the issue on Monday.

Ms Ardern said the government would review and extend the interventions that are working.

“I want fewer people victimised. I want fewer crimes committed. I want fewer communities affected by crime,” she said.

“I think people would find it refreshing if for once they saw politicians not trying to outbid each other on policy but just doing what works.”

At the same time on Monday, a retail lobby group will hold a vigil for Mr Patel outside Ms Ardern’s electorate office, two kilometres from where Mr Patel was killed.

Sunny Kaushal of the Dairy and Business Owners Group told TVNZ he wanted to see dairy workers across the country close their shops between 12.30pm and 2.30pm to take part in a “nationwide solidarity vigil” as a mark of respect for killed, injured or robbed workers.

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