Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Is New Zealand Safe For Travellers?

New Zealand cops are efficient, friendly and corruption-free.

Occasionally some twit who knows little about statistics and even less about life comes up with some outrageous stat like “New Zealand is the second most violent country behind South Africa”.  

 What is in the heads of these guys?

In a strict statistical sense it may be true – but that’s because in most cases if the police are called to any sort of domestic dispute they lay charges against someone. Thus our stats are pumped up because all the clowns that hit their wives or husbands are classed as “violent crime”. Most other countries don’t even bother to report it

In other words it’s not that our crime rate is higher, it’s just because we collect better statistics..
The result of tabloid beat-up stories can, however, cause visitors to worry about whether New Zealand is as safe as it seems.

Here’s the truth: Car jacking is unknown. Murders anywhere in the country are still headline national news. Street muggings are rare. Sexual assaults are also headline news. Nobody carries guns – not even the cops. Armed robberies are not an everyday occurrence. 

Now the qualifications – yes, of course, there is the occasional street mugging, rape happens, a very limited number of gang members are armed, and armed robberies are at a rate of about two or three a week nationally. 
Here’s the actual numbers: Last year in the whole country there were 46 murders, 1874 robberies, 2204 sexual attacks. “Robberies” includes all forms of robbery – muggings, hold-ups etc – about 7 a day. “Sexual attacks” includes all kinds of situations in which someone was touched in an inappropriate manner – like a man on a bus putting his hand on the knee of the woman alongside him. Rape formed a minor part of the figures.

It is all but unknown for, for instance, a couple of sleeping tourists to be pulled from their campervan or sleepervan and seriously assaulted or robbed. 

How safe are tourists? Provided you take simple precautions, very safe. 
What are the risks. 

The most common crime against tourists is theft from vehicles. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. The most common location for this is at well known tourist parking spots – for instance, at the head of a walking track. 
Local communities are well aware of the problem and sensitive to its implications. In most places they maintain a citizens watch group.

But even the best citizen patrols won’t catch every little street-rodent every time so sometimes someone loses out. In most instances it is kids looking for money, cigarettes, liquor or big-brand clothing. 

Here’s some simple tips to reduce the risk.

The best thing to leave in a car – other than a starving pit-bull – is nothing. If you must park your car on a street take everything of value with you to the hostel or motel. 

A simple thing: :Leave the glove-box open. The sewer rats that prey on parked cars can see that there’s nothing in the glove-box so it isn’t worth busting a window. Even if they go away empty-handed after breaking in, you are left with the cost and inconvenience of replacing a side window. 

A lot of self-drive tourists state that they want a sedan – a car with a boot (OK – trunk if you insist) – because they can store stuff in there. Wrong.  Most car boots are quickly and easily accessed from inside the car. A quick tap on the window to shatter it, reach inside, pull the lever, boot open, stuff gone. Total time 15-20seconds. 

Again, even if they open the boot and find it empty, your stuck with a broken window problem.
In many ways an empty hatchback or station wagon is still the best protection.

What about personal safety?

The major cities are relatively safe even in the downtown areas. I can think of nowhere in Auckland that would be regarded as a no-go zone for tourists. A young woman on her own would need to be cautious in dark side street. – but, hey, 99,999 times out of 100,000 she’d be quite safe. Why take the risk if you don’t have to?

A couple walking down a side street is unlikely to be accosted. Sure, it happens, but it’s not a prevalent offence. Again, simple precautions like avoiding dark streets with loitering youths is still street smart.

I’m 1.8m tall, slimmish and grey-haired. I.e. I’m no 400 pound gorilla that would be safe even in LAs south west area. But I can not think of any street in downtown Auckland. Wellington ort Christchurch that I would feel scared to walk down in the middle of the night. The only proviso to that is in the wee small hours of the morning – say 2am to 4am – when drunken yobbos are finally thrown out of the nearest downtown watering hole.  And you know what a drunk can be like – looking for trouble and wanting to take on the world. Just ignore them, don’t engage and move on. 

On the rare occasions that a tourist has been robbed in the downtown area of Auckland it usually makes the tv news that night. How rare is that?

What about theft in hostels. Yeah, yeah – again it happens but it’s not prevalent.

What do you do if you have a problem? Obviously , go to the police. The NZ Police have a proud record of corruption-free service. You need have no worry that the copper you talk to is on the take. Again, it’s all but an unknown. You should expect to get immediate attention and assistance.

David Morris is a freelance New Zealand travel writer.  You can get his free EBook, “A New Zealand Travel Guide” at request.htm

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