Special police team combating causes behind Waikato youth crime rise

Source: 1News

Despite making 150 arrests, a special police team tackling youth crime in Waikato say the aim is to keep young offenders out of court.

Sergeant Craig Bates has an insight into the home lives of the young boys and teenagers who've plagued Hamilton businesses for months.

"It could be family harm issues in the home, mental health, education, " he says.

Bates is the coordinator of Hamilton Youth Aid, a team working with Operation Pryor, a special police team set up in February to tackle rising youth crime in Waikato.

READ MORE: Special police team targeting Waikato youth crime makes 150 arrests

So far, Operation Pryor has led to more than 150 arrests.

Most of the 700 charges laid, dealt with vehicle theft and burglary. A smaller number include more serious offences such as aggravated robbery.

But some Hamilton business owners who spoke to 1 News were concerned that even after intervention from police, many youths were back on the streets in a short time.

"They just know they can get away with it," said business owner Ash Parmar.

"What is happening in Youth Court? Cause to our expectation, I think there is nothing happening there."

But Bates says while police need to protect the community, under the Oranga Tamariki Act, one of their guiding principles is to try to keep young people out of the criminal justice system.

"We understand the mindset of 'putting them away will solve things', but we also know long term, if we put them inside it's probably not going to help," he says.

He says more arrests won't reduce crime in the long term.

Instead, police try to understand what causes young people to offend and make that the focus.

For example, he says, some young offenders grow up with parents who have extensive criminal records.

"In some families, you have generational offences committed. Mum, dad, uncles may have committed offences. Young people growing up in that sort of environment, without good role models, possibly see that as everyday life," he says.

School closures during the pandemic haven't helped. Social media, too, has played its part, with many youngsters posting images of their offences online.

"It's the likes, the likes and the view. So you've got that as well sort of driving their offending behaviour, that type of popularity to them is all important."

While there have been hundreds of arrests by police, most are dealt with using community panels.

Rather than being locked up, many young offenders are simply put under curfew, with police often helping parents locate their youngsters at night.

It's only a small number, he says, the most serious repeat offenders, who are sent to a residence, often for a maximum of six months.

He has advice for families struggling to manage their young people.

"My words, and I've done this job for a long time, is take interest in your children and what they're doing - daily, weekends, who their friends are, and just actually love your child."