Exclusive: On the streets with Wellington police as city battles crime spike

A spike in crime in Wellington's central city is taking its toll.

Locals say they no longer feel safe walking the streets, and business owners in the city's party precinct are calling out for action before someone is killed.

Newshub joined police for an exclusive look at what they're dealing with while they patrol the streets of the capital on a Saturday night.

They run from arrest to arrest, trying to intervene before disaster strikes.

During Newshub's ride along, an elderly man was shoved to the ground just after 11pm.

It's a typical weekend night for police in central Wellington.

Crime data from the Willis Street-Cambridge Terrace area shows 242 people reported being the victims of crime during December 2019.

That includes all types of crime. That dropped to 32 for April last year - during lockdown.

But victim numbers shot up again in October 2020 and continued to climb, with 255 people reporting being the victims of crime this February.

Inspector Warick McKee says serious assaults and fights on the streets are the norm.

It's a reality still haunting one man, who Newshub has agreed to not identify.

He was allegedly king hit outside the Opera House in March.

"We were on our way to McDonald's on Manners Street and walked past a group of maybe eight or a dozen people," he told Newshub. 

The man says one of them asked him for $100 and he said no.

"He immediately punched me first in the throat and then in the back of the head. The punch to the back of the head took me down."

Doctors told him he got lucky, escaping with a concussion.

But he experienced vivid flashbacks and now avoids being in the party precinct alone. 

"It has changed how I walk around Wellington and my perception of it. When I think about it, yeah, it is sad."

Business owners are fed up. Hamish Garrick catches a shoplifter a day in his Cuba Street shop.

"I've had threats on my life, I've had people punch me, charge me, swing at me, all sorts of stuff like that."

Teji Singh has managed a kebab shop on Courtenay Place for five years.

He says crime has always been a problem but the theft, vandalism and abuse is escalating.

"To be honest, sometimes I think when these conditions come across I want to quit the job... we're all screaming out saying someone will get killed or seriously injured."

Newshub went to Courtenay Place to film a piece to camera, saying that on the night we went out with police, 16 people were arrested - most of them on Courtenay Place.

Two minutes after filming finished, a woman approached shouting and swearing - before punching and kicking the camera.

This was at 2:30pm on a Thursday afternoon.

No one can say exactly why crime is escalating, but an increase in emergency housing in the central city could be a factor.

Mayor Andy Foster says it's often people with "serious needs" who need housing most.

"We've had roughly a tripling in emergency housing and these are often people with serious needs."

Alcohol is also a problem. The council has teamed up with police to enforce the liquor ban.

More lighting and security cameras will be installed in Te Aro Park, which is a big problem spot.

Foster denies the Wellington City Council has been slow to act, but hundreds of women took to the streets last month demanding more action.

Jess Woodnorth was among them.

"I can't recall a night where I have been out with my girlfriends and we haven't either had some sort of sexual harassment against the group ourselves or witnessed it," she told Newshub.

She's taking matters into her own hands, putting up hundreds of stickers in bars and clubs to promote consent - but she doesn't know if it's making a difference.

"I haven't personally seen any change."