© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2024

Criminologist describes Christchurch youth crime as 'endemic'

Kenzie Jennings-Gruar
Police Tape   Getty Images

As crime rates increase across the country, one criminologist says we can expect it in our own communities.

In the past month, youth crime has increased significantly across the country, including a spate of brazen ram raids which left some of the Auckland region and Bay of Plenty's most expensive stores, dairies and malls in debris. People are concerned about the ages of some of the offenders, the youngest being just seven years old. 

In a statement from a police spokesperson, they say offending, including ram raids, involving young people is not new. They claim the reasons why they are involved in this type of offending mostly comes down to the influence of social media, parenting, families and disengagement from school. Police are actively investigating and responding to these incidents when they occur. This includes engaging with partner agencies to address some of the wider issues in their environment which may be driving them to offending.

Although Christchurch has not experienced large-scale ram raids, retired criminologist from the University of Canterbury, Greg Newbold, said it's only a matter of time before we see that kind of behaviour here. Newbold was sentenced to seven-and-a-half-years in jail for selling heroin in 1975 and claims it was a huge eye opener. During his time in prison he had interactions with other young prisoners convicted for crimes such as theft. He said their reasons for committing the crimes were all the same. They did it for 'cheap thrills'. Newbold claims kids will do these kinds of acts for excitement as they lack it in their lives, and seeing it on social media will only encourage others to take part. Newbold claimed it's an easy gig for these children because unlike other thrilling activities there's no cost.

"The problem is most of these kids come from dysfunctional families, otherwise they wouldn't be out at three in the morning, and they just can't afford extra activities."

Amanda Smith from Te ora Hou's Fresh Start programme, oversees work with youth offenders. She said the current status with youth crime can be compared to the mid-1990s where there was a rise in youth offending and urban youth gangs. She explained since the Covid-19 pandemic youth crime overall has been decreasing, however, there is some theorising that as we shift out of more restrictive Covid-19 measures to more freedom in society that we will see a jump in offending.

"This will be potentially driven by a whole range of factors from the impact of global stress, financial stress, loss of social norms along with a rise in the profile of gangs and their targeting of young people."

Newbold said youth crime had nothing to do with Covid-19. He described it as 'endemic'.

"It's part of a wider social problem which can't be fixed very easily."

Newbold claims it is an intergenerational problem that has been around for decades and it needs to start with parenting and families. 

Canterbury police say they are working to prevent a rise in youth crime in the region and they recognize the distress and frustration that offending is placing on business owners.