15 Mar 2017

Crime-hit Waikato businesses take security into own hands

9:30 pm on 15 March 2017

A rural Waikato town, forced to go into lockdown mode after hours, is demanding a return to 24-hour policing.

Rising crime levels and a lack of policing are driving Cambridge residents and businesses to take security into their own hands.

Waipa Mayor Jim Mylchreest has pleaded since the middle of last year to get a 24-hour manned police station back.

He said crime levels were rising in Cambridge. The nearest mobile police hub in Te Awamutu was unreliable - it could easily take police 40 minutes to an hour to respond to call-outs, he said.

Ram raids were of particular concern, he said, with shopkeepers putting bollards in footpaths to stop vehicles driving through their store windows.

"Another effort is to put these horrible metal shutters on the front of their shops when they close at night."

Petrol station burgled twice in 10 months

Challenge Rock Gas service station owner Dave Wilkinson installed up to 20 CCTV cameras after he was burgled twice in 10 months. The most recent one was last July.

"About 4.30am, after the police and security had gone home... the town was completely unattended. They drove through the doors with a stolen motor car. They took about $3500 of tobacco, but they did about $7000 of damage to the building with the door mechanism."

It was chance that Te Awamutu police did a sporadic patrol that night - as they had the night off. Since then, it was up to voluntary community groups to patrol at night, he said.

Other local businesses were fearful after a spate of ram raids around town, Mr Wilkinson said.

Officers live in town, work elsewhere

Scores of police officers lived in Cambridge, but worked in other centres, he said.

"There's three members of the Cambridge Volunteer Fire Brigade who are serving police officers now. Two of them are [stationed] in Hamilton and the other is in Te Awamutu."

He said last week a driver thought to be intoxicated crashed into a logging truck about 5am, just south of Cambridge.

"There was no police patrol to come to monitor that job. The Fire Service did traffic control until the Commercial Vehicle Unit came over and that was the senior sergeant from Te Awamutu who came over."

Cambridge Volunteer Fire Brigade chief officer Don Garrand said such issues sometimes happened early in the morning.

Mr Mylchreest said the community did not feel safe. Relying on voluntary patrol groups at night was unacceptable.

"The police are really not performing the function that we expect."

Mr Mylchreest said the way to reassure the community was to get a manned station or a similar compromise.

Police say set-up makes response quicker

In a statement, Acting Waikato West Area Commander Inspector Frank Grant said frontline staff in Cambridge and the wider area were available to the community 24-7.

He said having more officers mobile ensured a quicker response in emergency situations.

Police Minister Paula Bennett said some of the extra 880 sworn officers promised by 2021 would go to Cambridge, though that was an operational decision.

She said, from memory, about 140 would be designated to rural areas, but others would be spread throughout the country.