Story: Property crime
Page 2 – Burglary and theft
Theft involves taking something that does not belong to you. Burglary differs from theft as it involves breaking and entering with intent to commit a crime (almost always thievery). Burglary makes up around one in 10 recorded offences and the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment. A 1996 national survey of crime victims found that fear of being burgled ranked highly. Burglary victims often feel violated as intruders have entered their personal space.
Rates of burglary vary across the country – Auckland had a rate of 144 per 10,000 people in 2004/5 while Tasman had a rate of 36 per 10,000 people. Reported burglaries grew over the 1980s, reaching over 100,000 per year in the early 1990s, before declining over the 1990s and early 2000s. Most people take some security measures to protect their homes, such as deadbolts. Improved security is effective as those homes with no special security measures are more likely to be burgled.
House burglars are usually youthful and inexperienced. In 1999/2000, 38% of resolved cases involved offenders who were children or youths. More experienced burglars tend to target businesses. Tightened bank security and commercial property security has seen the ‘tank man’, or safe blower, become a colourful figure of the past.
In the early 1970s Odlins timber company had a house stolen: A man phoned orders for precut frames, roofing and fittings from a number of Auckland companies and booked them to Odlins’ account. The materials were delivered to a vacant site in a new subdivision. He loaded them onto another truck, and built his house on a different section. He was never caught.
Most thefts are minor and involve goods of little value – yet cumulatively the value of stolen property is high. The cost of theft in New Zealand in 2003/4 was estimated at $1.2 billion, and burglary at $942 million. Many thefts are opportunistic and never detected, or are dealt with by those involved without police involvement. Reported thefts grew from around 90,000 in 1980, to over 150,000 per year in the early 1990s, before stabilising and declining a little over the 1990s and early 2000s.
Cars are the exception to the rule of thefts being of minor value. Due to their prevalence and mobility, cars are major targets for thieves. While many cars are stolen by joyriding youths, gangs of organised thieves also steal cars to order or dismantle them in ‘chop shops’ and sell the parts. In 2007 thefts of, or from, vehicles accounted for 18% of all crime recorded by police. Valuables left in cars are a major target for thieves. Only around one in two thefts of belongings from cars are thought to be reported, and, only one in five cases of wilful damage to cars.
Through the early 2000s thefts of vehicles steadily declined, probably due to increased vehicle security. The cost of vehicle thefts in 2003/4 was estimated at $270 million, and thefts from vehicles at $280 million. Unsurprisingly a 2006 New Zealand crime and safety survey found that 71% of victims who had their cars stolen answered ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’ when asked how they were affected by the crime.
Shoplifting is a form of theft sometimes referred to as ‘ripping off’ or ‘five finger discount’. Many young people shoplift something during their teenage years but then cease once they are older. In 1966 a security service was established in Wellington to help stores combat shoplifting. Many large department stores have for decades had their own security services, shop detectives and surveillance cameras.
Estimates put the cost of shoplifting to retailers at $350 million in 1990, $580 million in 1999 and $600–800 million in 2010. A major study of retail crime, carried out in 1996 and 1999 by University of Otago researchers, revealed that staff theft was as big a problem as shoplifting. Shoplifting was more common but involved goods of lesser value. Most dishonest staff were caught by closed-circuit camera footage or tip-offs, while most shoplifters were detected by sales staff. Only 16% of shoplifters were referred to police and half of these were convicted. One in three staff caught thieving were dismissed, yet only 3% were referred to police. Of these nearly 60% were convicted.
A receiver of stolen goods is known as a ‘fence’. In the chain of supply and demand the person who receives (and usually buys) the stolen property (asking few questions) is also culpable, as most criminals want to convert their stolen property into cash. Receiving stolen goods carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.