Grievous assaults up in Otago region

The number of grievous assaults in rural Otago increased 122.5% to 89 last year, prompting the area's police head to label the mainly alcohol-fuelled crimes a ‘‘blight on our towns''.
Police crime statistics for 2007 released yesterday showed the Otago Rural police area, which includes Queenstown, Central Otago and the Waitaki district, had a good year, recording a 9.4% overall decrease in reported crime and a crime-resolution rate of 58% - one of the highest in the country.

However, a 21.1% rise in reported violent crimes to 734, the increase being mostly grievous assaults, marred a year of which police staff could otherwise be proud, Otago Rural area commander Inspector Phil Jones, of Queenstown, said.

‘‘These [violent] crimes are almost without exception alcohol-fuelled, and are a blight on our towns. They are happening most weekends and present a significant risk to both our residents and also our attractiveness as a tourist destination,'' Insp Jones said.

The assaults were reported across the Otago Rural area. In the past year, police in the area had increased the policing of licensed premises, night patrols, and prosecutions of licensees breaching the Sale of Liquor Act, and had strictly enforced curfews. They had also worked more closely with the liquor industry, Insp Jones said.

While the 2007 violent-crime result was ‘‘a disappointment'', he hoped a reduction in licensing hours in Queenstown, proposed liquor bans in Queenstown and Alexandra and the pending introduction of community guardians in Queenstown would reduce the problem this year.

Across the Southern Police District, the crime rate remained flat in 2007, reflecting the New Zealand figures; although police nationwide resolved almost 10,000 more offences than in the previous year.

The Southern figures showed a small decline in total recorded offences with 28,760 crimes reported - 0.3% less than 2006.

The national figures showed a small increase with 426,380 crimes reported, up 0.5% on the previous year.

However, with the population increasing, that figure represented an overall drop in offences per 100,000 people.

The Dunedin-Clutha police area recorded a 10.2% increase in violent crimes, mostly in domestic-related violence. Area commander Inspector Dave Campbell attributed the increase to more people reporting crimes because of the national domestic-violence awareness campaign, ‘‘It's not OK.''

Total recorded crime in the area increased 3.2% compared with the previous year.

The figures showed a small rise in crime of 0.1% in the Southland police area. Again, one of the biggest increases was in reported violent crimes, which include domestic violence.

Nationwide, sexual offences, property damage, drug and antisocial offences increased, while dishonesty offences continued to follow a decade-long trend by decreasing.

New Zealand recorded its lowest murder rate for a decade at 45, with 41 resolved before the end of the year.

Robberies and kidnappings were also down, by 7% and 2% respectively.

Overall, reported violent crimes were up by 6000 offences (12.3%), almost all of them relating to family violence.

Assistant Police Commissioner Grant Nicholls said: ‘‘This is not surprising when we take into account that there has been a huge focus on family violence with publicity and media campaigns designed to reduce tolerance for such offending.''

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