Story: Violent crime

Page 8 – Robberies and assaults

Robbery and violence

Robberies differ from burglaries in that they are thefts that involve the use or threat of violence. Robberies are divided into two principal types: simple robbery, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment; and aggravated robbery, which carries 14 years. Aggravated robbery is robbery committed by more than one person, or with a weapon, or where a victim is grievously injured.

Since the 1950s the incidence of robbery has grown exponentially. Robberies jumped sharply after 1970, reaching 1,833 in 1996 – 68 times more than the1950 total and 12 times more than in 1970. After this robbery numbers fell, but they began to rise again from 2004. The figure of 2,493 robberies for 2008 was 63% greater than that of 1999.

Increasing use of EFTPOS and credit cards has made robbery far less profitable than it was, and much-improved security – including security guards outside banks – has sharply reduced the chances of getaway. The majority of robberies involve minor heists. Large-scale robberies are vigorously investigated, with the perpetrators usually identified and sent to prison for lengthy periods. As a result, in the 1990s the professional robber began to disappear. Robbers were younger and less sophisticated, and the big hauls of the past – such as the $295,000 security van hold-up at an Auckland Foodtown supermarket in 1984 – were rare in the early 2000s.

Rates of aggravated robbery

As with other forms of violence, New Zealand has seen an increase not only in the incidence of robbery, but also in its seriousness. In the early 1960s, for example, robbery figures were less than 4% of the robbery rate in the early 2000s, and only about 10% were aggravated robberies. By 2000 approximately 60% of all robberies were aggravated.

Desperate for a smoke

A woman encountered a man waving a handgun at her when he entered her home in the Hamilton suburb of Nawton in October 2009, demanding cigarettes and cash. He then fled the property and she phoned the police. Her children remained asleep throughout the incident.

Grievous and serious assaults

Increasing assault rates

Like other forms of violent crime, non-sexual assaults increased considerably after 1950. The number of recorded assaults in 1970 was more than seven times that of 1950. Between 1970 and 1980 recorded assaults increased by 70%, and they grew another 55% by 1990.

Like homicides, recorded assaults peaked in the mid-1990s. They reached 36,000, then stabilised and fell. After 1999, however, assault figures steadily increased, reaching an all-time high of 42,000 in 2008.

Increasing seriousness

The seriousness of assaults has also increased. Since 1978, police figures for non-sexual assaults have been divided into three categories: minor (generally with a maximum of one year’s imprisonment or less), serious (with a maximum of three years or less) and grievous (with a maximum of up to 14 years).

In 1978 a third of all assaults were identified as ‘serious’ or ‘grievous’. By 2008 nearly two-thirds were listed under these headings. Serious assaults grew tenfold in that 30-year period; grievous assaults grew 44-fold.

How to cite this page:

Greg Newbold. 'Violent crime - Robberies and assaults', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 24-Mar-15