“Kids just run riot.”
Kaikohe is a hard knock town.
“I grew up with people who ended up getting into trouble, like gang stuff. When you grow up around that sort of stuff it’s hard to escape,” said Sam, 18, who works at a local hardware store.
On Friday night, about 20 youngsters aged between 14 and 16 hurling rocks and trying to kick in the glass doors of the town’s Mobil service station. Earlier that evening, a dozen children walked into a liquor store, stole about 10 boxes of beer and took them to a party.
The incidents led to the local National Party representative calling for the return of corporal punishment. "Until we stand up to it and do something about it and change the law that means you can discipline somebody for something they do wrong - to me it is a form of child abuse not to raise a child with discipline,” Alan Price told RNZ’s Morning Report.
Sam, who said he grew up in a loving home, is proud of the fact he finished high school last year, unlike a lot of others his age.
“Everyone pretty much knows everyone here and the worst thing is young people dropping out of school while they’re growing up and doing drugs and shit like that,” he said.
“Just driving down the street you can hear people yelling gang slogans in the street.”
Sam said his family taught him about discipline and to be humble. Soon he’s going to check out careers in the Navy. He also has a lot of dreams, like becoming a professional boxer or a rally car driver or “who knows?”
His escape is the local gym, which is down the road from the Mobil station.
The gym is run by Ants Warren, who is in his 70s. He said it is a place where dozens of teenagers can come after school and not be “hassled or under pressure to do something stupid”.
He said crime escalated after the Northland Region Corrections Facility opened just outside the town about a decade ago. “Kaikohe, 40 years ago, was an awesome town. But in my opinion, after they built the prison up here, the families of the prisoners moved up here to be closer, which brought a lot of baggage and dysfunctional families.”
The region has been dubbed the lawless North. Last year, violent robberies in the district increased by 33 percent. Other robberies and extortion rose by 26 percent, burglaries were up 14 percent, and the rate of car thefts rose as well.
Last year, the Government said more than one-in-five people aged between 16 and 24 in Kaikohe weren’t employed, in education or training.
“Unemployment for the parents makes for a hard, hard life. There are a lot of social issues up here going unfixed. Some of the gangs use the kids under 16 to do work for them because there isn’t the threat of prison,” Warren said.
But he still defends the town he has lived in the majority of his life, which he said is like most others in New Zealand. “Kaikohe gets an unfair deal in that we only get in the papers when bad things happen.”
"These kids just run riot," Kaikohe community patrol co-ordinator Tony Taylor told RNZ’s Morning Report.
He said only five police officers were working in the whole mid-north area on Friday night, and they were busy elsewhere. The police said there were 11 officers working in the area.
When police do show up, it’s usually just a drive-through in a squad car, Warren said.
“Most of the trouble happens at night and a squad car driving through every now and again isn’t going to stop anything,” he said.
“And if the police just stay in the squad car, they’re not forming relationships with the community. They need more people on the ground.”
There are 21 police stations in the region, but its MP, Winston Peters, told RNZ some are like “ghost stations”. Police Minister Paula Bennett has promised $500 million for more police and said Northland is a priority.
Warren said a bit more presence would make a massive difference, as there are only a few families in the area causing problems.
“Unemployment for the parents makes for a hard, hard life and it affects everyone. There are a lot of social issues up here going unfixed,” he said.
“It’s all about respect, whether it’s for land or people or culture. Here, you’ve got to want to behave and want to be good. To be staunch in a group looks good, but on their own they’ll cry like any other kid who is getting into trouble.”