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Police to target court dodgers

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
[email protected]

More police have been brought into Wairarapa to hunt down almost 70 alleged offenders who have failed to turn up to Masterton District Court.

About 40,000 warrants to arrest are issued nationally every year, with police saying the majority of these are in relation to people not showing up for court appearances.

Detective Senior Sergeant Warwick McKee said the issue in the region was placing “significant demand” on police, as well as on the Ministry of Justice and Corrections Department.

“It also further frustrates victims and our community.”

He said police were making a concerted effort to ensure those wanted for arrest on warrants were held to account, so additional staff had been deployed into Wairarapa to tackle the problem.

Mr McKee said there were a wide range of reasons why warrants may be outstanding.

The figures did not mean large numbers of dangerous criminals were at large in our communities, he said.

“Many of these warrants will relate to lower level offences or failures to appear in court.

“Some will involve those who have moved overseas or are using a false identity.

“Others will include those who have moved and not come to further attention of police.”

Wairarapa lawyer James Elliott said there were many reasons for defendants failing to appear in court.

“A lot of them are itinerant, they move from house to house, so they may not receive mail, their mobile phone numbers change quite often, or they may not have or be able to afford a mobile phone.

“A lot of them live sometimes unstructured lifestyles and simply forget, or they may have a lot on, either with balancing families, work, and other issues that may be behind the context of why they’re actually appearing in court in the first place.”

From time to time police did a “sweep of outstanding warrants”, which Mr Elliott thought was a good use of resources, rather than taking a piecemeal approach.

He had just one client with a warrant for arrest.

“You have one or two that fail to appear from time to time, but I don’t see there being an increasing systemic problem in my own practice.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, as at December 31, 2017, there were 7457 people with active warrants to arrest nationally.

That figure is based on warrants issued since 2004.

Mr McKee said anyone on an active warrant was a concern for police.

“Our priority is always those individuals who pose a risk to our communities.

“Locating these individuals is a focus for staff in each district every day, [and] police use a range of techniques to do this.”

He said anyone with a warrant should go to court and get it resolved “prior to police locating them, arresting them, holding them in custody and putting them before the courts”.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said when a summons cannot be served or where a defendant has failed to appear in court, having been directed to do so, usually the court would issue a warrant to arrest to police.

A Corrections spokesperson said its staff worked to support offenders in the community, helping them to comply with the conditions of their sentences and live crime-free.

“[But] where an offender breaches the conditions of their sentence, we hold them to account.”

The spokesperson said staff worked hard to ensure there was no impact on resources due to any unscheduled appearances in court.

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