How to drive down crime

How to drive down crime

The Wellington District Car Squad was established in early 2015 in response to a rise in unlawful taking, nationally and at district level. It quickly made its presence felt.

In 2015-16, its first full financial year of operation, unlawful takings in Wellington District fell 18 percent from the previous year, and around 30 percent from two years earlier.

“That 18 percent represents around 425 fewer victims,” says Detective Nathan Smith, the squad’s inaugural OC. “That’s the big thing for us.”

Nathan, who was in the motor trade before joining Police, was put in charge of the squad when it was established at Wellington Central.

It was initially given a year but as it proved its worth its remit was extended. In August 2016 it moved to its current base at Lower Hutt, where mugshots of target offenders festoon one wall.

The squad comprises an OC – since last month Detective Gareth Barnes - and three PST staff on six-month secondments with an option to extend. Several past members have gone on to CIB induction.

Having a squad dedicated to car crime relieves the burden on other parts of the front line. They get to know the trends and offenders, and the offenders know the squad has their number. Rigorous bail checks underline the point.

Their prime targets are big operators and chop shops, where stolen vehicles can quickly vanish by being rebirthed for sale overseas or broken down into saleable parts.

Utes are popular with thieves – highly desired by young drivers, and often with interchangeable parts which make things easier for the chop shops. A recent warrant terminated in Makara uncovered two such vehicles.

Other trends have included stealing trailers to trade for methamphetamine. Motorcycles and scooters are popular targets.

The big operators are linked with organised crime gangs, with drugs and firearms often featuring. Four firearms were recovered in the Makara termination.

“Every large-scale termination of a chop shop is linked with meth and organised crime,” says Gareth. “The offenders are often associated with gangs.”

At the other end of the offending scale, the squad also targets prolific teenage joyriders, who can have a major impact on statistics and perceptions of crime.

In its early days they enjoyed success targeting joyriders preying on car parks in the Hutt Valley rail corridor.

“We had success with two offenders in particular,” says Nathan. “When they were in custody or on tight bail conditions, car crime in that corridor dropped dramatically. We had some real gains there.”

In its first weeks with Gareth as OC, the squad has had further success with the small fry. “There was a teenager from Porirua who was taking Subaru Legacies and Mazda Demios,” says Gareth.

“We were getting his fingerprints and DNA hits on vehicles on a daily basis. He’s now in youth custody and there has been a dramatic drop-off in offending in Porirua and around the district.”

“Picking the right targets is key,” says Nathan. “But the 425 fewer victims is the real measure of success.”

See also: Car Squad puts brakes on meth dealer