Crime in New Zealand

Crime in New Zealand is generally measured by the number of offences being reported to police per 100,000 people. However many crimes go unreported, especially sexual crimes, and do not appear in official statistics.[1] Crime rates in New Zealand rose for much of the 20th century but began to decline during the 1990s (see graph). In the 2014 calendar year, just over 350,000 crimes were reported to police for a national population of 4.51 million, giving a national rate of 777 crimes per 10,000 population.[2][3]

Crime statistics

Statistics New Zealand sets standards for collecting crime data, and collates statistical data from the Police, Department of Corrections and Ministry of Justice. Each department also publicly publishes their own statistical data. Since 1 July 2010, the entire justice sector has used the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC) to classify and aggregate offence statistics.[4]

The Ministry of Justice has conducted Crime and Safety Surveys in 2006 and 2009[5] to assess victimisation rates as well as other research about crime in New Zealand. Victim surveys tend to suggest that less than a third of 'crime' is actually reported to Police which is consistent with victimisation surveys in similar countries such as Australia, Britain and the USA.[6] However, victim surveys also include reports of relatively minor matters which would not necessarily be seen as crimes by the justice system so interpretation of the figures is difficult.[7]

Between 1998 and 2007 the police became more effective at resolving crimes such that the resolution rate has gone from about 36% of all reported crimes to nearly 50%. The trend has not continued and in 2012 the number of cases resolved dropped to 47%.[8] For serious violence the resolution rate has gone from 71% to 80% and the murder resolution rate has gone from 62% to 91%. In the longer term, the percentages of resolved murder cases will be even higher as the Police report, that over time, they resolve close to 100% of all murder cases reported to them.[9]

New Zealand recorded crime rates, 1994-2014 calendar years
Year Offences recorded[10] Population
(at 30 June)[11]
Crime rate
(per 10,000)
1994 447,525 3,620,000 1,236
1995 465,052 3,673,400 1,236
1996 477,596 3,732,000 1,280
1997 473,547 3,781,300 1,252
1998 461,677 3,815,000 1,210
1999 438,074 3,835,100 1,142
2000 427,230 3,857,700 1,107
2001 426,526 3,880,500 1,099
2002 440,129 3,948,500 1,115
2003 442,489 4,027,200 1,099
2004 406,363 4,087,500 994
2005 407,496 4,133,900 986
2006 424,137 4,184,600 1,014
2007 426,384 4,223,800 1,009
2008 431,383 4,259,800 1,013
2009 451,405 4,302,600 1,049
2010 426,345 4,350,700 980
2011 406,056 4,384,000 926
2012 376,013 4,408,100 853
2013 360,411 4,442,100 811
2014 350,389 4,509,900 777

Despite different means of measuring crime, the statistics show that crime rates in New Zealand rose through most of the twentieth century, following similar patterns in other Western countries. Towards the end of the century, the rate dropped and has stabilised or continued to drop slowly since then.[1] There has been much speculation about the causes of the turnaround. The impact of economic downturns, unemployment rates, local disasters, better security, changing demographic patterns, increased policing and various changes in the culture and life-style have all been examined. Collectively, all these factors may play a part.[12]

The crime rate has continued to decline in the twenty-first century. In 2010, the number of murders in New Zealand dropped by nearly a quarter over the previous year (from 65 to 46), while overall reported crime fell 6.7 percent.[1] In 2011, New Zealand's recorded crime rate was at its lowest in 15 years, down another 5.6% on the figures from 2010.[13] In 2012 (financial year), the crime rate dropped another 5.9 per cent on the previous year - taking into account an increase in the population of 0.7%. Homicide and related offending dropped by 21.5%.[14]

The total number of offences in 2012 was the lowest since 1989, and gave the lowest crime rate per head of population since before electronic records were maintained. Police said the largest decrease was in Canterbury, where recorded crime fell by over 11% - due to a large decrease in recorded theft and property damage offences immediately after the Christchurch earthquakes. However, this doesn't necessarily mean crime actually dropped. Deputy Police Commissioner Viv Rickard said "This decrease appears to be partly due to the public not wanting to bother us with minor matters when they knew we were dealing with the earthquake.[14]

Sir David Carruthers, a former Chief District Court Judge and now head of the Independent Police Conduct Authority, says the drop in the crime rate in New Zealand is partly due to a drive to reduce the number of teenagers being suspended or expelled from school. Around 70% of the most serious youth offenders are not in school, and keeping them involved in education is the best way to reduce offending. Education Ministry figures show that school suspension rates have been declining for at least 12 years, from 7.9 for every 1000 students in 2000 to 5.2 in 2011. The decline has been most dramatic for Maori students - down from almost 20 to under 12 for every 1000 Maori students.[15]

Kim Workman of Rethinking Crime & Punishment says another factor is the changing demographic in society; youths aged 18 to 24, who commit most crime, are a declining proportion of the ageing population. Recent changes in police strategy have also reduced the number of prosecutions in the past two years. Police are using diversion and warnings more frequently instead of charging minor offenders and are issuing safety orders for less serious domestic situations - which allow an offender to be ordered out of the house for up to five days without recording this as an offence.[15] Figures released in 2012 show police have issued more than 32,000 warnings for petty crimes, resulting in a 10% drop in charges before district courts. The warnings are most commonly used to resolve disorderly behaviour and breach of liquor ban offences.[16]

Statistics by types of crime

New Zealand recorded crime statistics for years ending 31 December 2012-14, by ANZSOC category[2]
ANZSOC Description 2012 year 2013 year 2014 year
Number per 10,000
Number per 10,000
Number per 10,000
01 Homicide and related offences 68 0.15 83 0.19 66 0.15
02 Acts intended to cause injury 40,851 92.67 39,447 88.80 39,944 87.46
03 Sexual assault and related offences 3,512 7.97 3,919 8.82 4,056 8.99
04 Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons 1,022 2.32 787 1.77 737 1.63
05 Abduction, harassment and other offences against the person 12,476 28.30 13,763 30.98 15,024 33.31
06 Robbery, extortion and related offences 2,199 4.99 2,178 4.90 2,140 4.75
07 Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter 52,937 120.09 52,247 117.62 53,265 118.11
08 Theft and related offences 119,476 271.04 121,035 272.47 119,323 264.58
09 Fraud, deception and related offences 8,013 18.18 7,997 18.00 9,037 20.04
10 Illicit drug offences 20,792 47.17 16,069 36.17 16,543 36.68
11 Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosive offences 6,063 13.75 5,675 12.78 5,791 12.84
12 Property damage and environmental pollution 48,901 110.93 45,577 102.60 40,358 89.49
13 Public order offences 42,522 96.46 35,850 80.71 26,751 59.32
15 Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations 15,797 35.84 14,425 32.47 16,085 35.67
16 Miscellaneous offences 1,384 3.14 1,359 3.06 1,269 2.81
Total crimes 376,013 853.00 360,411 811.35 350,389 776.93
Population (as at 30 June)[11] 4,408,100 4,442,100 4,509,900

Public perceptions of crime

A Ministry of Justice study in 2003 found that 83% of New Zealanders held inaccurate and negative views about crime levels in society and 'wrongly believed' that crime was increasing.[17] A more recent study in 2009 by Dr Michael Rowe, also from Victoria University, found "an overwhelming public belief that crime has got worse" despite New Zealand's murder rate dropping by almost half in the past 20 years.[18] Reflecting the depth of these misperceptions, between 2006 and 2009, only 57% of New Zealanders reported feeling ‘safe’.[19]

In mid 2014, the Ministry of Justice and Colmar Brunton conducted a survey of 2,051 New Zealanders about their perceptions of crime and the criminal justice sector. They concluded:[20]

New Zealanders' perceptions of safety differ to the way the country is perceived internationally. In 2010 and 2011, New Zealand topped the Global Peace Index issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace - out of 149 countries.[21] The index is based on 23 indicators including corruption, violence, crime rates, military spending and access to primary education. According to the 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, New Zealand is the least corrupt nation in the world.[22]

Characteristics of victims

A victim survey undertaken in 1996 found that 67% of the population were not subject to any criminal activity, 14% suffered from two or more criminal offences, and 4% had been the victim of five or more criminal activities.[23] The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey conducted in 2006 showed that Māori have a much higher risk of victimisation than other groups. The figures showed that each year around 47% of Māori were victims of crime and Māori were also more likely to be victimised multiple times (4.3 incidents per victim compared with 2.7 for European victims). The risk of victimisation for Māori was particularly high for serious offences, including sexual violence and violence by partners. For example, 8% of Māori women experienced sexual victimisation - twice as high as the national rate for women (4%).[24]

Analysis of the 2006 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey showed that a number of factors contribute to the high rate of victimisation of certain groups of Maori over other Maori. These included being young, being on a benefit, being single, living in a sole-parent household, living in neighbourhoods with high social disorder and being female.The survey also that offences involving violence by strangers and damage to property were less likely to be reported and that four in ten Māori were unable to name any community service that was available for victims.[25]

Characteristics of offenders


The age of criminal responsibility in New Zealand is 10 years, however children aged 10 and 11 can only be convicted of murder and manslaughter, while children aged 12 and 13 can only be convicted of a crime with a maximum sentence of 14 years or more imprisonment.[26] Children and adolescents aged 16 and under are usually dealt with by the youth justice sector, but serious cases may be transferred to the adult justice sector.


The vast majority of crime in New Zealand is committed by males. In 2014, just under 33,000 females were apprehended by police compared to 122,800 males, a ratio of one female to 3.72 males.[27]


New Zealand's crime statistics are compounded by the over-representation of Māori. Though Maori make up only 12.5% of the general population aged 15 and over,[28] 42% of all criminal apprehensions involve a person identifying as Maori, as do 50% of those in prison. For Maori women, the picture is even more acute: they comprise around 60% of the female prison population.[29] A report by the Corrections Department says: "The figures lend themselves to extremist interpretations: at one end, some accuse the criminal justice system of being brutally racist, as either intentionally or unintentionally destructive to the interests and well-being of Māori as a people. At the other, there are those who dismiss the entire Māori race as constitutionally 'criminally inclined'."[29] The justice sector's 2014 Briefing to the Incoming Government named the over-representation of Māori as one of the sector's main challenges.[30]

The drivers of crime

A forum held at Parliament in 2009 on the Drivers of Crime in New Zealand identified mainly socio-economic factors contributing to crime such as: "Family dysfunction; child maltreatment; poor educational achievement; harmful drinking and drug use; poor mental health; severe behavioural problems among children and young people; and the intergenerational transmission of criminal behaviour."[31] The forum noted that "Many of these issues are concentrated within socially and economically disadvantaged families and communities." In New Zealand, it seems these life circumstances are more likely to affect Maori families than non-Maori - which contributes to the comparatively high rates of offending by Maori.[29] In 2010 the Law Commission released a report on the social destruction caused by alcohol in New Zealand and quoted district court judges who said that 80% of all offending in New Zealand occurred under the influence of alcohol and drugs.[32]

Addressing the drivers of crime

In 2009, following the Drivers of Crime forum, the National led Government established four priority areas to reduce crime in New Zealand. This included improving support for maternity services and early parenting, addressing conduct and behavioural problems in childhood, reducing the social destruction caused by alcohol (and increasing treatment options for problem drinkers), and improving the management of low-level repeat offenders.[33]

Improving support for maternity services and early parenting is considered important because conduct and behavioural problems in childhood are an important predictor of later chronic antisocial behaviour, including crime. Interventions the National led Government has adopted in this area include increasing the number of intensive case workers to support vulnerable teenage parents and attempts to improve participation in early childhood education.[34]

Addressing conduct and behavioural problems in young children is also important. The Justice Department says if early intervention with the five to ten per cent of children with the most severe conduct and behavioural problems is effective, this has the potential to reduce subsequent adult criminal activity by 50 to 70 per cent. A key government proposal in this area is the establishment of programmes to strengthen positive behaviour and reduce bullying at school.[35] In 2008 three-quarters of primary school children reported being bullied, ranking New Zealand second worst out of 35 countries in a major international study.[36] In 2012, youth helplines in New Zealand were still being inundated with soaring numbers of bullying-related calls; Youthline reported bullying-related calls jumped from 848 in 2010 to 3272 in 2012. The youth services say schools are failing to protect students.[37]

To address the harm caused by alcohol, the Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a comprehensive investigation into New Zealand's liquor legislation. The Commission received thousands of submissions and their investigation took over two years leading to the release of a 500 page in-depth report: Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm. The Government incorporated many of the less important recommendations made by the Commission into the Alcohol Reform Bill. However, the Bill was widely criticised by health professionals for failing to address six key evidenced-based recommendations put forward by the Commission.[38] The six included raising the price, making the extra revenue available for the treatment of problem drinkers, banning television and radio advertising of alcohol, reducing trading hours of bars and clubs, reducing the number of outlets allowed to sell alcohol and raising the purchase age back to 20 years.[39][40] A NZ Herald on-line survey showed 80% of respondents thought the Government's reforms were a 'token gesture' or 'could be stricter'.[41]

When the issue of the purchase age reached the floor of parliament in August 2012, MPs voted to keep the purchase age at 18.[42] Around the same time, Justice Minister Judith Collins also revealed she had dumped a plan to ban the sale of RTDs (ready-to-drink) with more than 6 per cent alcohol content.[43] After meeting with liquor industry representatives, Collins agreed to allow the liquor industry to make its own regulations on RTD's instead.[44]

Legislation, criminal procedure and sentencing

New Zealand has codified its criminal law through various pieces of legislation. Most criminal offences that would result in imprisonment in New Zealand are set out in the Crimes Act 1961, including the Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 - although criminal offences related to specific situations also appear in other legislation. Less serious breaches of the law are dealt with under legislation such as the Summary Offences Act 1981 and the Land Transport Act 1998 where penalties are more often a fine or other community sanctions rather than imprisonment.

In July 2013, the new Criminal Procedure Act 2011 came fully into force. The Act sets out procedure for prosecuting a person for an offence. It also replaced indictable and summary offences with four new categories of offences:[45]

Like most Westminster system countries, New Zealand has a common law system. Common law is based on precedents – decisions which are used as a guide, or as an authoritative rule, in later, similar cases.[46] This plays a significant role in the sentencing process.


The number of sentenced prisoners has varied over recent years, reaching a high of 9,333 in 2006 and falling to 7,662 in 2014.[47] As of 2016, New Zealand's prison population rate was 202 per 100,000 people which was the 69th highest in the world.[48]

Prison sentencing rates have increased over the years. In 1984, 4.7 percent of offenders sentenced and convicted were given imprisonment; this rose to 7.1 percent in 1994 and 9.7 percent in 2002, when the current sentencing legislation (the Sentencing Act 2002) was enacted. From 2002, prison sentence rates rose to a high of 11.5 percent in 2005 then fell to 8.5 percent in 2008, before increasing again to 13.3 percent in 2015.[49]

In New Zealand, as in most western democracies, the rate at which people are sent to prison primarily depends on trends in penal policy and sentencing law, in particular laws affecting the availability of community-based sentence options for judges, the use of remand, and the maximum length of sentences for any given offence. Penal policy is inevitably affected by the prevailing political climate.[50] Indeed, Professor John Pratt of Victoria University in Wellington says that while crime is driven primarily by socio-economic factors, the growing rate of imprisonment in Western countries has been driven by penal populism - a process whereby the major political parties compete with each to be "tough on crime" by proposing laws which create longer sentences and increase the use of remand prior to sentencing.[51] The news media contribute to penal populism by sensationalising violent crime.[52]

In July 2009 Dame Sian Elias, the Chief Justice, argued against what she described as the "punitive and knee-jerk" responses to crime because of its potential consequences for prison overcrowding.[53] In a controversial speech to the Wellington District Law Society, she called for a more rational approach to penal policy and said the focus on victims had made courtrooms "very angry places"[54] and had put at risk the impartial system of deciding criminal blame. She also said that if action to address the growing prison population was not taken, Government might be pushed into the use of executive amnesties to reduce the growing prison population.[55] In response, Minister of Justice Simon Power said "The Government is elected to set sentencing policy. Judges are appointed to apply it."[56]

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment is the severest form of punishment in New Zealand since the abolition of the death penalty in 1989. It is the mandatory sentence for treason, the presumptive sentence for murder,[57] and an optional sentence for manslaughter and certain drug-related offences. People sentenced to life imprisonment remain in prison or on parole for the remainder of their life.

Most people sentenced to life imprisonment can apply for parole after a minimum non-parole period set by the sentencing judge; no person in New Zealand has yet been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The default minimum non-parole period for murder is 10 years,[58] increasing to 17 years for aggravated murders.[59]

Correctional facilities (prisons)

As of August 2015, New Zealand has 18 correctional facilities, 15 for male prisoners located from Kaikohe to Invercargill, and three for female prisoners located in the main centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.[60]

Capital punishment

Capital punishment was practiced in New Zealand from 1840 until its abolition in 1989, although the last execution took place in 1957. The country executed 85 people, all by hanging. All but one person were executed for murder, and all but one person executed were male.[61]

Law enforcement

Several agencies enforce New Zealand criminal law, although the New Zealand Police is the national agency responsible for enforcing criminal and traffic law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace throughout New Zealand. The Police frequently co-operate with other enforcement agencies both on a case by case basis and also through multi-agency taskforces targeted at Organised and Transnational Crime. Fisheries, Immigration, Organised Crime, Serious Fraud, Aviation and Border Security all have dedicated enforcement agencies. In addition to Police, road controlling authorities, such as local city or district councils, have the power to enforce their own parking by-laws.

See also



  1. 1 2 3 Large drop in reported crime, murder rate, 1 April 2011
  2. 1 2 "New Zealand Crime Statistics 2014" (PDF). New Zealand Police. April 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  3. "National Population Estimates: At 30 June 2014". Statistics New Zealand. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  4. "Progress report for 2009 review of crime and criminal justice statistics: July 2011". p. 10.
  5. "Crime and Safety Survey".
  6. "The NZCASS in an International Context" (PDF).
  7. Gabrielle Maxwell, Changing Crime Rates 1998 -2007, Paper prepared for “Addressing the causes of Offending” IPS Forum February 2009, p 2
  8. Wade, Amelia (3 April 2013). "Fewer crimes committed, solved". The New Zealand Harald. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  9. Gabrielle Maxwell, Changing Crime Rates 1998 -2007, Paper prepared for “Addressing the causes of Offending” IPS Forum February 2009, p 4
  10. "NZ.Stat -- Annual Recorded Offences for the latest Calendar Years (ANZSOC)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  11. 1 2 "Group: Population Estimates - DPE, Table: Estimated Resident Population by Age and Sex (1991+) (Annual-Jun) -- Infoshare". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  12. Gabrielle Maxwell, Changing Crime Rates 1998 -2007, Paper prepared for “Addressing the causes of Offending” IPS Forum February 2009, p 3
  13. 42,444 crimes reported in Wellington, DominionPost 2 April 2012
  14. 1 2 NZ crime rate at all-time low - Police, NZ Herald 1 October 2012
  15. 1 2 Schools do their bit to cut crime NZ Herald 28 November 2012
  16. Warnings reduce court load, NZ Herald 3 December 21012
  17. Attitudes to Crime and Punishment: A New Zealand Study, Ministry of Justice, Wellington, 2003, pp. 4 & 66
  18. Collins, Simon (7 April 2009). "NZ murder rate halved in past 20 years". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  19. Human Development Report 2010 - 20th Anniversary Edition, United Nations, p 180.
  20. "Public perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system survey – 2014 results". Ministry of Justice. December 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2015.
  21. ‘Peace index ranks Canada 14th in world’, The Canadian Press, 8 June 2010.
  22. "Somalia most corrupt in world".
  23. Crime in New Zealand: a statistical profile, Parliamentary library
  24. A profile of victimisation in New Zealand, Ministry of Justice website
  25. New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey 2006 - Analysis of the Māori experience, Ministry of Justice website
  26. "Section 272, Jurisdiction of Youth Courts and children's liability to be prosecuted for criminal offences -- Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 No. 24". Parliamentary Counsel Office. 6 December 2014. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  27. "NZ.Stat -- Annual Apprehensions for the latest Calendar Years (ANZSOC)". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  28. "Table 2, Ethnic group (detailed total responses) by age group -- 2013 Census QuickStats about culture and identity". Statistics New Zealand. 15 April 2014. Archived from the original on 24 May 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  29. 1 2 3 Over-representation of Maori in the criminal justice system, Policy, Strategy and Research Group, Department of Corrections, September 2007, p 6.
  30. "2014 Justice Sector Briefing to the Incoming Government". Ministry of Juctice. October 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  31. Addressing the Drivers of Crime, Ministry of Justice, 17 December 2009, 2009 p 3, para 14
  32. Alcohol In Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, New Zealand Law Commission, April 2010
  33. Drivers of crime priority areas, Ministry of Justice.
  34. Improving maternity and early parenting support.
  35. Addressing conduct and behavioural problems in childhood
  36. NZ schools lead world in bullying Dominion Post 14 december 2008
  37. What needs to be done to reduce bullying at school? NZ Herald 7 May 2012
  38. Alcohol Action New Zealand
  39. Alcohol reforms too diluted for public taste, NZ Herald 28 August 2012
  40. Alcohol bill diluted to an insipid brew, NZ Herald, 29 August 2011
  41. Alcohol reforms 'watered down'
  42. No age rise for alcohol sales, DomPost 30 August 2012
  43. 6% alcohol limit for RTDs dumped, Dominion Post 23 August 2112
  44. Liquor lobbyists press Collins, Dominion Post 25 November 2012
  45. "Offence categories and types of trial". Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  46. How laws are made, Decisionmaker website
  47. "Annual Sentenced Prisoner Throughput for the latest Calendar Years". NZ.Stat. Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  48. "Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Rate". Institute for Criminal Policy Research. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  49. "NZ.Stat -- Adults convicted in court by sentence type, most serious offence calendar year". Statistics New Zealand. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  50. New penology and new policies, On-line Resource Centre P 10
  51. Pratt, John; Clark, Marie (2005). "Penal populism in New Zealand". Punishment and Society. 7 (3): 303–322. doi:10.1177/1462474505053831.
  52. Judy McGregor, 'Crime News: The Cutting Edge' in What's news? Reclaiming Journalism in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, 2002, p 88-91
  53. Chief Justice suggests amnesty to clear jails, NZ Herald, 16 July 2009
  54. Editorial: Populist pitch on justice just posturing, NZ Herald 26 August 2010
  55. Dame Sian Elias (9 July 2009). "Blameless Babes – Address to the Wellington District Law Society" (PDF). The New Zealand Herald.
  56. Espiner, Colin (2009-07-17). "Minister tells judge to butt out". The Press. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
  57. Sentencing Act 2002, section 102
  58. Sentencing Act 2002, section 103
  59. Sentencing Act 2002, section 104
  60. "Our locations". Department of Corrections. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  61. "Capital punishment in New Zealand". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 5 August 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2015.

Further reading

Criminal legislation

External links

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