Family violence on rise in NZ in aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle

Reports of looting in New Zealand regions affected by Cyclone Gabrielle are overblown, police say, but family violence is spiking.

At least 11 people have died as a result of the country’s biggest storm in decades, with widespread damage to infrastructure, property and business.

In the absence of reliable power and communications, many feared an increase in gang activity or opportunistic crimes.

However, Police Commissioner Andy Coster said data showed reports of dishonesty offences had decreased.

Police made 60 arrests in the past six days in the eastern district, which comprises the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne-Tairawhiti regions.

“Dishonesty offending, at least on the numbers available to us, is less than its normal level,” Mr Coster told Radio NZ.

“We must acknowledge this kind of behaviour. Preying on communities that are utterly devastated is completely unacceptable.

“What we’re actually seeing is an increase in family harm reporting.”

Mr Coster said the rise in family violence, which he estimated as a 60 per cent leap, was not surprising given the challenges facing families in the region.

“We can understand the pressure that is on the communities that are affected here,” he said.

“No doubt that’s playing out in a range of ways in terms of tension between people at supermarkets, petrol stations but also in homes.

“People are under pressure.”

NZ news outlet Newsroom said staff employed to enforce temporary road closures had been abused by frustrated locals seeking to travel on unsafe roads.

In one instance, a sawn-off shotgun was pointed at workers.

“It’s been full-on … we’re the guys who have to try to wheedle out who’s telling the truth, who’s lying,” East Coast Traffic boss Ryan Lawson said.

“It was a very, very scary moment and that crew just had to up and leave.”

Napier MP Stuart Nash delivered a direct message to any gang members looking to cause distress.

“Get your bloody patches off, go and get a whole lot of wheelbarrows and shovels and start helping people instead of adding to already super-high levels of stress,” he told news outlet Newshub.

Police have sent an additional 120 officers to the eastern district in the past week to maintain a visible presence and assist with the emergency response.

The response to crime has become a hot political topic, with right-leaning parties National, NZ First and ACT all imploring the government to allow the defence force to work alongside police.

Both Mr Coster and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the situation didn’t warrant it.

“We’re in control of the situation on the ground,” Mr Coster said.

Mr Hipkins said there were no specific initiatives responding to booming family harm.

“The police will continue to follow up as they do and so will all of the relevant social support agencies,” he said.

Another 100 police have been tasked with “working the phones” to investigate the thousands of reports of uncontactable people.

Mr Hipkins said of 6517 reports of missing people, 4260 had been confirmed safe.

Mr Coster, who expects the death toll to increase further, said police had “a lot of volunteer help” to visit addresses when phone inquiries failed to find missing people.

Authorities continue to make promising progress on getting electricity turned on, mobile phone towers working and improving drinking water.

About 70 per cent of the hardest-hit city, Napier, has power restored.

On Monday, Mr Hipkins announced the national state of emergency had been extended for another week.

He also created a new post-cyclone recovery minister  for finance minister Grant Robertson, and announced $NZ300 million ($272 million) in spending to fix roads and support affected businesses and workers.


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