Police dealing with children as young as 7

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

Police in Wairarapa are dealing with children as young as seven as they face an alarming trend among young offenders.

Until recently, they were dealing with youth offenders aged 14 to 16 years old, but the ages had decreased to between 10 and 12, and in some cases as young as seven, said acting Wairarapa area commander Detective Inspector Scott Miller.

“Basically, one of our biggest challenges is a small percentage of our youth population offending are getting younger and younger.

“It’s very different to working with adults.

“With adults there is a far more rigorous structure through courts and penalties . . . we are doing our best with what we have got with these children, 12 and under,” Mr Miller said.

In the past two weeks, police have dealt with two “isolated incidents” involving children under 14.

In the first, a 12-year-old Masterton Intermediate School pupil was held at knifepoint and had his bike stolen on his way home from school.

Then last Saturday at Masterton’s Queen Elizabeth Park, a 12-year-old boy was punched in the face unprovoked.

The boy’s father said his son and a friend were walking through the park when they were approached by two boys on bikes who identified themselves with a local gang, Killer Bees.

“When they got approached by a couple of boys, one got off their bike, and he heard one of the boys say, ‘Kick him’, then all of a sudden it was a punch in the nose.”

The father said his son’s confidence had taken a “big hit” and now he was too afraid to go to the park alone.

“The park should be a safe place, you should be able to let your kids go to the park alone.”

Mr Miller said the youths involved in the incident at Queen Elizabeth Park were known to police and were now going through Youth Aid.

“One of the offenders was reasonably well known to the Youth Aid system and was already going through it for a previous incident.”

In the last six months, 22 high risk youths had been referred to Youth Aid, with the number increasing “pretty steadily” over that time, Mr Miller said.

A stream of vandalism across Masterton schools and community facilities since August last year had also left the community frustrated.

But Mr Miller said the police had dealt with the youths involved, and there had not been any related incidents for two months.

“Three of those main young offenders have left Wairarapa and the others are going through a very robust process through other agencies.”

In February this year, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa had windows smashed and there were two incidents of tagging.

The six vandals from the two incidents were aged between seven and 10.

What concerned Mr Miller was the ages of the vandals – “there is a lot going on in that kid’s life before they come to police attention”.

Local partner agencies – Oranga Tamariki and Connecting Communities – work with police to help put youths on a more positive path.

Once a child has offended, and continues to do so, police refer them onto the appropriate agency to work with the family and the offender.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the “escalation” of violent youth offending over the past six weeks had her concerned.

She said there would always be youth offending in the region, but was uneasy about the increasingly young ages of those committing serious crimes.

Read further coverage ‘Working together to rescue young future’.