Crime: ACT's Brooke Van Velden hits out at Government, says it's 'heartbreaking' workers are too scared to go to work

ACT's deputy leader has hit out at the Government, saying a change in approach is needed to stem the violence on New Zealand's streets. 

It comes after Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told AM on Tuesday the Government needs to do more to tackle smash-and-grab burglaries. 

Hipkins also admitted business owners "have reason" to be "fearful" given the level of retail crime offending.

The impact of retail crime on small businesses is back in the headlines after a west Auckland post shop owner this week announced she is closing her store due to being repeatedly targeted by thieves. The store, which has been operating for 20 years, has been burgled seven times over the past five years. The shop owner admitted to AM on Tuesday she is living in fear and unable to sleep.

Then on Tuesday night, a Caltex petrol station in west Auckland was targeted by five thieves who smashed their way in with a worker inside and stole a cash register.  

Damage caused by thieves at Caltex petrol station in west Auckland.
Damage caused by thieves at Caltex petrol station in west Auckland. Photo credit: Newshub

ACT deputy leader Brooke Van Velden told AM Early on Wednesday it's "heartbreaking" to hear workers are too scared to come to work. 

"You talk to anybody anywhere in the country and they tell you that crime is going up and it's because people aren't facing consequences for crime and they know that they can get away with it," van Velden told host Michael O'Keeffe.

"Just this week, I've been out talking to shop owners in Glen Innes, St Heliers, Kohimarama, Glendowie, there isn't a row of shops that haven't been hit in the last few months and it's absolutely heartbreaking to hear there are business owners actually afraid to go to work and afraid to serve in their community."

Police data from April shows there were 51 ram raids in March, up from 41 in February. 

The number of ram raids in March was down from the number being recorded monthly for most of 2022, but well above that being recorded pre-pandemic.

Retail crime isn't just limited to ram raids. Data released by National in March showed retail crime had increased by 39 percent over the year prior.

Other police data shows the number of burglaries and thefts committed nationally between April 2022 and March 2023 was well up on the year prior, though that isn't limited to retail offending.

The police data also shows crime has significantly increased over the past six years, with the number of serious assaults rising by 121 percent and acts intended to cause injury increasing by almost 30 percent.

Van Velden questions how New Zealand "has come to this", with shop workers locking themselves in cages to keep them safe and the installation of fog cannons and bollards.

She said the answer to fixing crime in New Zealand is to be tougher on criminals. 

"We have to have more consequences for crime otherwise these kids - it's predominantly kids who are breaking into these shops - are going to become adults who've never suffered a real consequence and that's going to have real serious consequences for their entire lives."

ACT deputy leader Brooke Van Velden
ACT deputy leader Brooke Van Velden Photo credit: AM

Van Velden told AM Early the rates of crime will stop going up when Labour admits you "can't be nice to criminals". She believes Labour's strategy hasn't worked and wants to see the three-strikes law reintroduced. 

"Kindness to criminals hasn't worked, they're not kind back and it's not kind for our victims and our communities," she said.

The Government passed a bill in October last year repealing the three strikes law, which automatically hands maximum sentences to criminals who commit three serious crimes.

An evidence brief supplied by Corrections, police and the Ministry of Justice found there was no substantial evidence of the effect of such a law, either domestically or overseas.

Van Velden said children need boundaries so they can learn committing crimes will come with consequences. 

"If the Government is saying, 'Look, we're just going to be kind to you, there are no consequences, you can get away with it,' of course they're going to do it," she said. "If you've got kids knowing if I do the wrong thing again and again and again, and there will be an escalation of offences from instant practical penalties from police, maybe an ankle bracelet, and then a youth educational facility where I'll actually have to get an education and I'll have to look after myself, then I think you'd see kids actually start to respond."

Police Minister Ginny Andersen concedes crime stats must come down so Kiwis can feel safe. 

The Government has taken several steps to try and address retail crime, including its scheme to subsidise stores to install bollards, fog cannons and other security measures.

Last month, the Government said more than 1000 interventions had been installed. It pumped an additional $9 million into the programme, taking it to a total of $15 million.

Andersen also said earlier this month the fog cannon subsidy scheme's 500th fog cannon had been installed at a store in Lower Hutt. More than 1300 businesses had been approved for a fog cannon.

Watch the full interview with Brooke Van Velden in the video above.