No coincidence there's ram raid spike after Auckland's long COVID-19 lockdown, Oranga Tamariki says

Auckland spent more time in COVID-19 lockdowns than anywhere else and it's now seeing a spike in youth crime, like ram raids.

Oranga Tamariki says that's no coincidence, but gangs are also a factor.

Tamaki Makaurau spent a big chunk of 2021 locked down, with the pandemic shutting schools and keeping kids at home. A year later, and there's a ram raid epidemic.

"We're certain there must have been some experiences those kids had to endure over those lockdown periods of time that we're now seeing manifest in these types of behaviours," said Ben Hannifin, Oranga Tamariki's youth justice director.

Oranga Tamariki and police briefed ministers about youth crime on Thursday.

Hannifin told Newshub the agency believes the COVID response in Auckland is behind the spike in ram raids.

"Not only were they not at school, they also probably weren't engaging with social workers, if they had one, or mentors, if they had one, so all positive aspects of that young person's life was just closed off," he said. 

While youth crime has been falling nationally, in Auckland it's recently increased by 14 percent. The number of kids aged 10-13 offending has increased 6 percent in 12 months.

"Probably in hindsight you'd think how do you make sure you keep that face-to-face relationship with at least a couple of key, positive adults. We potentially could have seen different behaviours than we would have seen in the past six months."

Chris Hipkins, the Police and Education Minister who was in charge of the Government's COVID-19 response last year, said he didn't know if he'd "paint a direct causal link". 

"But certainly we've seen more young people disengaged as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions," he said. 

National leader Christopher Luxon said a big driver is also absences from school. 

"We need to get kids back to school because I think it is very strongly linked to this stuff," said Luxon.

A police intelligence report found in Waikato offending was predominantly committed by youth gangs. Oranga Tamariki said youth gangs are hard to define.

"There's no real evidence that we can get that these groups or youth doing this crime are linked or are being managed by a gang," said Shaun Brown, youth justice deputy at Oranga Tamariki.

But proper gangs are also having an impact.

"We're seeing a lot more kids in the residences now patched, fully-face tattooed, definitely prospecting, we weren't seeing that a few years ago," said Hannifin.

Oranga Tamariki says punishment doesn't work because these youths are so disengaged they don't have a moral compass. They wear criminal charges as a badge of honour, making them one of the most challenging groups of young people to work with.