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Keywords:

  • crime trends;
  • public perceptions of crime;
  • popular punitiveness;
  • politics of crime

Abstract: Contrary to much political and media discourse, quantitative and qualitative results of a research study suggest that the New Zealand public does not regard crime and disorder as escalating or serious problems in local neighbourhoods. Across a range of different areas, the study found that a majority of respondents did not regard crime in their local community as a serious problem compared with other districts; neither did they report that it was an escalating problem. In contrast, respondents were much more likely to report that crime problems were serious and increasing across the nation as a whole. This discrepancy might be explained by the reliance of the public on media coverage of crime for information on national crime trends and patterns. Analysis of qualitative ‘crime talk’ in local communities showed that respondents had highly-nuanced perspectives on crime patterns in the neighbourhood and often regarded problems as relatively unproblematic nuisance behaviour that often was not a significant concern in wider terms. The article concludes that key components of populist politics, apparently based on meeting widespread concerns about law and order, assume public fear, concern and intolerance of crime and anti-social behaviour that is often not actually apparent in public discussion.