Kōrero: Dishonesty crime

Whārangi 2. Burglary and theft

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


Theft involves taking something that does not belong to you. Burglary differs from theft as it involves breaking and entering with intent to commit a crime (almost always theft). Burglary makes up around 30% of recorded victimisations (or people notifying the police of a crime) and the maximum sentence is 14 years imprisonment for aggravated burglary (when a weapon is carried or used in the crime). Burglary victims often feel violated as intruders have entered their personal space. In 2014 over 6000 people were interviewed for the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey – 31% thought that there was a crime problem in their neighbourhood and 70% identified burglary or break-ins as what concerned them most.

Rates of burglary vary across the country – for home burglaries Northland had a rate of 126.5 per 10,000 people in 2014 while Tasman had a rate of 59 per 10,000 people. Reported burglaries grew over the 1980s, reaching over 100,000 per year in the early 1990s, before declining during the 1990s and early 21st century. Most people take some security measures to protect their homes, such as deadbolts. Improved security is effective as those homes with no special security measures are more likely to be burgled.

The majority of house burglars are youthful and inexperienced – 45% of those apprehended for burglary/breaking and entering offences in 2017 were aged 20 and under. More experienced burglars tend to target businesses. Tightened bank security and commercial property security has seen the ‘tank man’, or safe blower, become a colourful figure of the past.

House theft

In the early 1970s Odlins timber company had a house stolen: A man phoned orders for precut frames, roofing and fittings from a number of Auckland companies and booked them to Odlins’ account. The materials were delivered to a vacant site in a new subdivision. He loaded them onto another truck, and built his house on a different section. He was never caught.


Most thefts are minor and involve goods of little value – yet cumulatively the value of stolen property is high. The cost of retail crime (for example, shoplifting, burglary, employee theft or fraud) in New Zealand in 2017 was estimated at $1.1 billion a year.

Many thefts are opportunistic and never detected, or are dealt with by those involved without police involvement. Reported thefts grew from around 100,000 in 1980, to a high point of 185,725 per year in 1996. Theft-related crime dropped to 153,460 in 2006 and there were 119,323 offences reported in 2014. In the year to July 2018 there were 136,514 victimisations in the theft and other offences category (using new data recording processes set up in mid-2014).

Car theft

Cars are the exception to the rule of thefts being of minor value. Due to their prevalence and mobility, cars are major targets for thieves. While many cars are stolen by joyriding youths, gangs of organised thieves also steal cars to order or dismantle them in ‘chop shops’ and sell the parts. In 2014 thefts of, or from, vehicles accounted for 14% of all crime recorded by police. Valuables left in cars are a major target for thieves. Only around one in two thefts of belongings from cars are thought to be reported, and, only one in five cases of wilful damage to cars.

Through the early 21st century thefts of vehicles steadily declined, probably due to increased vehicle security. A 2014 New Zealand crime and safety survey found that 45% of victims who had their cars stolen answered ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’ when asked how they were affected by the crime.


Shoplifting is a form of theft sometimes referred to as ‘ripping off’ or ‘five finger discount’. Many young people shoplift something during their teenage years but then cease once they are older. In 1966 a security service was established in Wellington to help stores combat shoplifting. Many large department stores have for decades had their own security services, shop detectives and surveillance cameras.

A major study of retail crime, carried out in 1996 and 1999 by University of Otago researchers, revealed that staff theft was as big a problem as shoplifting. Shoplifting was more common but involved goods of lesser value. Most dishonest staff were caught by closed-circuit camera footage or tip-offs, while most shoplifters were detected by sales staff. Only 16% of shoplifters were referred to police and half of these were convicted. One in three staff caught thieving were dismissed, yet only 3% were referred to police. Of these nearly 60% were convicted.

In 2017 a retail crime survey by Retail New Zealand found that crime cost New Zealand retailers an estimated $1.1 billion a year. The retailers surveyed reported an increase in losses as a result of internal crime (dishonest staff) and a small drop in losses associated with external crime (shoplifting).


A receiver of stolen goods is known as a ‘fence’. In the chain of supply and demand the person who receives (and usually buys) the stolen property (asking few questions) is also culpable, as most criminals want to convert their stolen property into cash. Receiving stolen goods carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Carl Walrond, 'Dishonesty crime - Burglary and theft', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/dishonesty-crime/page-2 (accessed 13 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Carl Walrond, i tāngia i te 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 2 Nov 2018 me te āwhina o Greg Newbold