Chris Hipkins says police were 'too slow' to roll out ram raid fund money, but progress being made

The Police Minister says police were "too slow" to roll out money from the ram raid fund to vulnerable businesses, but "significant" progress is now being made.

A $6 million fund was announced in May to support business owners affected by a spike in ram raids. The money, which comes from the Proceeds of Crime Fund and is managed by police, is intended to pay for physical barriers outside stores, such as bollards or planter boxes.

But questions have been raised over whether police have been quick enough in paying out the fund. While 500 businesses are thought to be eligible, four months after the announcement, only five have had installations completed and upgrades are underway on another five.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday said she wasn't comfortable with the speed with which the fund is being rolled out. 

"No, I'd like it to happen faster as well, but I'm also aware that we want to make sure that the police are given the ability to do it properly, too," she said.

Chris Hipkins, who became the Police Minister in June after Poto Williams was removed from the position, on Wednesday said police "are hurrying up". 

"They got their message several weeks ago from me," he said. 

"As a result, a lot more assessments have now been done. I think over 40 businesses have now had their assessments completed [and] about 30 of them sit with contractors for the work to actually be happening. I expect that progress is going to continue to accelerate over the coming weeks."

He said that was the latest data and the Prime Minister wouldn't have been aware of it on Tuesday.

"It is a significant increase on what it was a week ago though. It has been too slow but I think they are now starting to hit their stride with it."

Police initially needed time to trial systems, Hipkins said, but he acknowledged it "has basically taken them too long to be rolling it out more widely". 

He sent police a clear message.
He sent police a clear message. Photo credit: Newshub.

Police released a statement on Wednesday afternoon confirming 40 assessments have been completed, with 23 of those stores having had a site review completed by a contractor for the provision and installation of protective equipment. 

"These assessments look at a retailer's security needs and identify the most appropriate solutions, such as fog cannons, sirens, alarms, roller doors or bollards. Retailers may be eligible for one or more of these options. Five stores have had installations completed, and a further five have installations underway."

Police are responsible for deciding who receives support from the fund. Eligible retailers are identified by police analysing the current occurrences, past ram raid burglaries and ensuring the retailer is a small business. That is then followed by an on-site assessment. 

To help with what police are calling an "accelerated assessment process", more staff have been brought on to help. 

"This includes a core team of 12 assessors and an additional five ethnic liaison officers who have strong and established relationships with many in the retail sector."

Assistant Commissioner Chris De Wattignar said police are also undertaking surveys with retailers "to help them better understand what they can do to keep themselves safe".

"This can be anything from having fewer posters in the windows and lower shelves in the aisles so people can more easily see into, out of, and around the store, through to suggestions of fog cannons or other physical security measures."

Documents obtained by Newshub in July showed there had been a 518 percent increase in ram raids in the first six months of the year compared to the first six months of 2018. A report also found 76 percent of ram raids were committed by youths under the age of 17 and 17 percent were under the age of 13.

De Wattignar said youth crime "is a complex matter" and "not for police to solve alone". 

"We are committed to working with our partners and communities to prevent youth offending and hold young offenders to account in a meaningful and effective way."

Fourteen young people were arrested on Wednesday for their suspected involvement in recent commercial aggravated robberies.

The Government announced earlier this month that it is expanding a number of schemes that seek to re-engage youth in education and provide them with wrap-around services to steer them away from crime.