Police have praised the courage of an Auckland news publisher who stepped in to perform a citizen’s arrest on a thief – but have advised it’s best to call 111 in similar situations.
As a man started to abuse staff and tried to leave a downtown Auckland supermarket without paying on Wednesday, National Business Review owner Todd Scott says he acted on instinct – tackling the thief to the ground.
But after holding him down for 10 minutes as staff called police, Scott said he was surprised when the police told him to let the person go or risk being arrested himself.
Police today told the Herald that their best advice was to call 111 in similar situations.
“Police acknowledge the courage showed by this member of the public to step in,” Auckland City area prevention manager Inspector Dave Christoffersen said.
“However a safer option would have been to call Police, and if it was safe to do so, follow the person and provide a description and or any vehicle registration, then wait for Police to arrive.
“Under the Crimes Act, there are a few very specific scenarios in which a person could detain another member of the public, prior to police arrival, however, these situations can be fluid and we strongly encourage people to call police in the first instance before becoming involved.”
Scott was at Countdown Metro on Lower Albert St when he came across a person he described as being drunk, aggressive and foul-mouthed who was abusing supermarket staff while trying to leave with boxes of alcohol.
Scott said he acted on instinct and did not think that what he was doing was wrong. The security guard stood nearby in support.
“I was the only person to restrain the individual on the ground and I did so for about 10 minutes while the store manager was on the phone to the police.”
Scott acknowledged he was surprised, however, when the manager whispered instructions into his ear saying police were advising that he let the person go.
“I am grateful to the manager of the store for whispering the instructions to me – rather than doing so in an earshot of the thug.
Scott said the manager told him that officers could not come to the scene and that he could not make a citizen’s arrest. He was also told that he himself may be arrested.
“I invited the cop to arrest me if I had broken the law. He said I could be done for assault – but the victim [or] thief would have to lay charges.”
Christoffersen says the priority for police is for all people to be safe.
“Police continue to encourage everyone to report all crime to police rather than taking matters into your own hands as you could be putting yourself at risk,” Christoffersen said.
Scott revealed that while he was speaking to supermarket management and security, a second man was seen walking out the door with three boxes of alcohol unpaid for.
National party spokesperson for justice, Paul Goldsmith, says if people no longer believe that the police and the justice system will deal with these circumstances, they’ll take matters into their own hands.
“That, of course, is fraught with many difficulties, and we don’t want a sort of vigilante style of justice, what we want is clear rules, properly enforced.
“This is an area where the rules, I think, do need greater clarification, but we also, in the broader context, need to have a clearer message around crime generally and consequences for it and that is very much blurred,” Goldsmith told the Herald.
The Epsom-based list MP says people are right to be annoyed about retail crime in their communities.
“The tension that everybody wrestles with is not wanting to open up sort of vigilante-style justice, while at the same time recognising the current understanding that when people just walk out of your store, there’s virtually nothing that you can do.
“It is unacceptable, and ultimately everybody else, all the other customers, end up paying more because of an inability to deal with people trying to steal material.”
Goldsmith added that the current response to retail crime is not effective enough, due to what he called a “culture of excuses”.
“It’s certainly not being effectively responded to.
“I’m not criticising the police, the police do their best in the circumstances, but the broader justice system is not effectively holding enough people to account for this kind of activity, which is why people are seeing it happen and they’re seeing it happen in brazen circumstances,” he said.
Prominent businessman Scott Pritchard is calling for a greater police presence to combat spiralling crime in downtown Auckland.
Pritchard, who heads the largest commercial property owner in the central city that includes the Commercial Bay centre at the bottom of Queen St, said nothing offers the feeling of safety to residents and visitors more than having police who are visible.
He said the closure of the downtown police station – under the last National Government in 2013 – merited a new station or some form of place that people know is there and would be beneficial.
“We have 45,000 people living in the city centre and they would love for the police to have a presence in the city,” he said.