Government announces new aggravating factor for people using children to commit crime, crackdown on posting offending to social media

The Government will introduce a new aggravating factor for people who use youths to commit a crime, allow the Family Court to require offenders to undertake community service, and also make posting criminal behaviour online an aggravating factor in sentencing.

That third measure echoes an idea already proposed by the National Party. Last month, National promised to make filming and publishing a crime an offender is involved in an aggravating factor, recognising that "social media is exacerbating the ram-raid epidemic".  It was to "target adults involved in ram-raids and crack down on the trend of ram-raiders filming their crimes and sharing them online".

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Monday said that posting offending behaviour will become an aggravating factor in sentencing. 

"It's becoming increasingly common for offenders to video their criminal behaviour and post or livestream it to show off to their friends and followers," he said.

"This 'social media amendment' we're introducing will apply to adults and young people and provide the courts with an additional consideration when sentencing, and it sends a strong signal that this behaviour is unacceptable."

The Government initially announced that it would make it a new offence for people who commission or reward children and young people to commit crimes. It said this would attract a prison term of up to 10 years. 

However, it later put out a correction saying there would instead be a new aggravating factor.

"The Government is creating a new aggravating factor that would apply when an adult, whether or not connected to an organised crime group, aids, encourages or incites a person under 18 to carry out an offence. " 

The Government crackdown also extends to young people, with Hipkins saying that for offenders aged 10 and over, the Family Court will be able to require, not just request, that they undertake community activities like cleaning graffiti and picking up rubbish. 

"The Family Court will also be able to require that an offender attend an educational, recreational or activity programme. That’s really important to get them engaged again and back on track and builds on the work we’re doing to improve school attendance," said the Prime Minister.

"There will also be accountability for victims, with victims entitled to attend Care and Protection Family Group Conferences for the first time in relation to children over 10. It will force the offender to confront the victims whose lives they are harming."

To clear a backlog in the District Court, the Government's boosting prosecutive services with an additional $26 million. This will allow police to add up to 78 full time equivalent staff to prepare their in-court work against those who have committed serious crimes. 

Hipkins said these measures aren't about "locking up children and perpetuating the cycle of crime". 

"It’s about accountability and consequences to help break the cycle of offending," he said.

“We’ll continue the careful and intensive work we’re doing to prevent young people from undertaking crime in the first place.

“We’ll also continue to work on policies and legislation against the gangs that are proven to work and are working."

He also defended the Government's record on tackling gangs. 

"Since we introduced new powers for Police to combat gang activity, we’re seeing good results, most recently in Opotiki last month, with 26 vehicles searched, four guns seized and nine arrests," he said. 

“Forty-thousand charges have also been laid against gang members as part of Police's Operation Cobalt drive against organised crime, which was funded by this Government. But the gangs need to hear the message that they cannot act with impunity. The balance has shifted."

Police figures released last week showed there were at least 388 ram raid-style events in a six-month period to the end of May, including 99 which remained unsolved. This is an average of over two per day. 

Police said there were 218 prosecutions for ram raids, while 86 young people were referred to Police Youth Services, during the six-month period. 

Police recorded 516 ram raids across New Zealand in 2022. 

ACT leader David Seymour said last week that despite the Government introducing initiatives meant to crack down on ram-raids, it wasn't working.

"Youth offenders know they can't be touched, the adults they work with also know this," Seymour said.

"That's why the most brazen and risky crimes are increasingly performed by people too young for the Police to be able to deal with. The biggest loophole in New Zealand's law and order system is a lack of consequences for youth offenders." 

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell also called Labour "soft on crime".

"At a time when stability and focus was needed, Labour changed Police Ministers four times and none of those Minister's had a clue what to do.

"National takes public safety seriously and will be focused and determined on restoring law and order and allowing Kiwis to start to feel safe again."

Police Minister Ginny Andersen told Newshub on Friday the level of retail crime is "completely unacceptable". 

"No one should go to work and feel unsafe. The Government is taking a range of steps to get on top of this problem, including intensive programmes to break the cycle of offending and provide support to retail owners- but we know there is more work we need to do," Andersen said. 

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

It pumped an additional $11 million into the fog cannon subsidy scheme in May, with Andersen saying it had been "incredibly popular".