Youth crime calls for community response

Published on 04 July 2022

Photo of Mayor, Sheryl Mai.

News of ram raids, theft, violence, and antisocial behaviour seem to be making national headlines more often, and Whangārei District is no exception. We’ve had security guards assaulted, Council staff abused, and public spaces used as meeting grounds for large groups of youth throughout the day.

I’ve been speaking with police, business owners, schools and members of our community over the past few weeks, and it’s clear that there is a feeling of unease around the rate of youth crime in our District.

These concerns are real, and the impacts of this behaviour on people and property are widespread and far reaching. If you’re a victim of these senseless actions, you may be seeking restorative action. If you’re related to these perpetrators, you’ll be seeking direction, help, and understanding. Something needs to change. The question is what, and how.

To keep this in perspective, the vast majority of our young people are good kids, and we are justifiably proud of them and their potential.

Our society has been impacted by unprecedented challenges through COVID-19, and we are still feeling the ripple effects of the social constraints and hardships we faced during that period. We’re also in an economic downturn, and most families in New Zealand are experiencing financial strain, causing stress within family groups and in the home.

We’ve had two years of broken schooling, ruptured relationships, and interrupted career growth. Many people lost their jobs, or had to choose alternative workstreams. The sustained societal stress accumulated over the past few years may well be playing a large part in the behaviours of our young people today.

Of course, COVID-19 won’t be the only cause for these behaviours. There will be multiple factors, including the influential role of social media, so it stands to reason that we will need multiple responses.

We already have youth programmes in place with Non-Government Organisations, Youth Space, schools, churches and faith-based youth organisations such as Te Ora Hou, and integrated support systems for families and young people. Social enterprises such as the R Tucker Thompson offer local leadership and youth development opportunities, and schemes such as Youth in Emergency Services give young people the opportunity to test their limits and gain skills in Civil Defence, fire and emergency, and Coastguard situations.

These programmes direct our young people to a place where they strengthen their life skills, discover their abilities and potential through pushing boundaries in a healthy and constructive way. 

If the solution were simple, we would’ve solved it by now. We need to come together as a diverse and empowered community, to design a strategy that will protect our communities, identify causes of behaviour, and find ways to work with our young people, not against them. I thank the people who are already seeking positive solutions.

We all have a part to play. Collectively we all want what’s best for every young person, and for them to feel a sense of hope and pride in their lives. They are our future.

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