Special police team targeting Waikato youth crime makes 150 arrests

Source: 1News

Police have laid more than 750 charges since a special team was set up to tackle youth crime in and around Hamilton.

The revelation comes as 1News was given exclusive access to Operation Pryor, which was formed in February.

"Our police are absolutely committed and we're working very hard to catch these offenders and hold them to account," said Senior Sergeant Andrew Saunders, who is leading the operation.

He said the charges involve around 150 arrests, most of them of young males between 14 and 17 years old. Some were as young as 12.

READ MORE: All-Govt approach needed to tackle youth crime - security expert

Like other parts of the country, Hamilton has been plagued by smash-and-grab raids by young people, almost always using stolen vehicles. Most offences involved thefts of cars and burglaries, although some were more serious, and included aggravated robbery and serious assault.

Last July, 1News reported on one Hamilton shop owner who had several businesses hit by young thieves stealing cigarettes. He believed they were stealing to order, to sell the cigarettes on a black market on behalf of gangs.

This year around 200 Hamilton business owners have formed an online support group. "Seems like every week someone's posting pictures or videos, or concerns," said Ash Parmar, a member of the group.

Another business owner, Manish Thakkar, said some businesses were trapped.

"If they want to sell their business they can't because no one wants to buy the business," he said.

Saunders said the offenders do work in groups, and some come to Waikato from Auckland and Bay of Plenty. But he says there is no evidence the young people are being recruited by gangs, and the offending is random.

"One minute there'll be a jewellery shop targeted, next minute they're hitting a dairy and stealing ice creams and lollies," he said.

Operation Pryor's priority was to protect the community and hold offenders to account, he said, but police also worked to understand what led to the offending.

"There's obvious care and protection issues, and our youth staff work with other agencies and government departments, around the behaviours of the children and what's going on in their family lives," said Saunders.

Hamilton Youth Aid coordinator Sergeant Craig Bates said the vast majority of young people were kept out of the justice system after police intervention.

"Ninety-five per cent of the files that come through our office, majority of those we won't see those young people again."

But it was how the smaller group of repeat offenders were dealt with by the courts which particularly worried local business owners.

"Once they go to court it seems like the ball completely drops there, and it's the same kids doing it again and again, " Parmar said.

In the second part of this report airing on Sunday, 1News will look in more detail at what police have learned about the family backgrounds of the offenders, and what they can do under the law to try and deter them from crime.