Amicus Curiae: Crime and Justice Investment in Budget 2015

Eugenia Woo, Leading Contributor

The Budget for 2015 has recently been released, and the figures for crime and justice investment have left some discontent: the police budget has fallen after being frozen since 2010. Phil and Sharyn Taunt, who suffered a daylight burglary over Easter, are victims of crime who feel as if the plan for police spending outlined by the Budget will be less than helpful for New Zealand. The Taunts are concerned that the decrease in police spending and the new focus on response rates as opposed to investigations would prove ineffective in reducing the type of domestic crime that they were victims of. Are their fears substantiated?

From a statistical perspective, the government’s crime and justice investment priorities seem to have shifted towards serious financial crime and surveillance with the release of this year’s Budget. The police’s investigation funding was reduced by almost 0.3 per cent, while the funding allocated to primary resource management was up by around 4 per cent. The funds allocated to our road safety program have fallen by 5.23 per cent despite the fact that the road toll was double last year’s amount. On the other hand, there was a hefty increase in funding for New Zealand’s intelligence agencies – the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) will both receive a $20 million increase in funding each. Both of those organisations have come under recent scrutiny after claims arose that they were complicit in spying on foreign diplomats, and that surveillance was being conducted on our Pacific neighbours.

The Police Association’s Vice-President, Luke Shadbolt, voiced his concerned about the potential downsides for investing more into white collar crime, stating that no new funding for New Zealand’s “problem areas” (for example, domestic violence and child abuse) would mean that it is unlikely that the Budget would have a positive impact on sufferers of those crimes. He reiterated the fact that in order to make a significant change with regards to re-offending in those instances of crime, more resources need to be invested into them aside from merely increasing the funds available to police officers to respond to criminal behaviour as it happens. Criminologist Dr John Buttle of the Auckland University of Technology echoes a similar sentiment – that the police’s ability to respond is something that impacts the administering of justice after the crime has occurred, but it is not necessarily the way to solve the problem of crime being committed in the first place. Coupled with the decrease in funding for investigations, it is possible that the resolution rates for domestic crime similar to what the Taunts were victims of might fall even further.

The Budget’s commitment to improving the police response is not necessarily out of place, however; February this year saw the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) release its report on the death of a man who committed an armed burglary and was shot twice by police officers over the space of ten seconds. While the IPCA found the officer who shot the man was justified in doing so, it was critical of a number of other police officers involved, particularly because of failures in command and an inability to control the incident. The response of the police to the incident was described as not complying with good practice, and it was noted that the “absence of command and control resulted in staff at the scene making decisions that put themselves and fellow officers at unnecessary risk of harm”. With the IPCA’s concern in both that incident and the handling of the Roast Busters case focused on questions of inefficiency regarding police response, the Budget’s investment in improving that particular aspect of tackling crime comes as no surprise.

The question of how the changes to crime and justice spending in 2015/2016 will affect New Zealand’s landscape of crime and its prevention will ultimately be answered after the reallocation of funds and resources has had time to trickle down into policy and response changes. While the reasons for those changes may have been made clear in recent high-profile reports by the IPCA and public concern about international organised crime, it remains to be seen if the government’s new focus on surveillance and serious financial crime will leave victims of domestic crime in the same situation as the Taunts – dissatisfied and concerned.

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