The Crazy Man Who Climbed Through the Window

Is New Zealand safer than the United States? And are the people here more polite? Maybe and yes.

On the 2015 Global Peace Index, which measures such things as low crime rates, minimal incidences of terrorist acts and violent demonstrations, harmonious relations with neighboring countries, a stable political scene and a small proportion of the population being internally displaced or refugees, New Zealand ranked fourth in the world, losing out only to Iceland, Denmark, and Austria. Yes, New Zealand is a peaceful place; it’s pretty safe and stable here. The United States, by comparison, was ranked 94 on the same index.

Similarly, in 2014 on the Corruption Perception Index, which measures the perception of how much—or in this case, how little—public corruption there is in a country, New Zealand ranked second in the world (losing to Denmark again). The government is not very corrupt here. The United States ranked 16th.

Crime is a little harder to compare between countries. Countries record crime differently, and it is often a matter of comparing apples to oranges, or in this case, apples to kiwifruit. In New Zealand, crime is measured as the number of offenses reported to the police. For 2014 just over 350,000 crimes were reported to the police in New Zealand. With a total population of 4.51 million, this works out to 7,770 crime reports per 100,000 people. Crime statistics in New Zealand are broken down into 16 separate categories. Included in these figures from 2014, there were 66 homicides (1.5 per 100,000 people), 4,056 “sexual assaults or related crimes” (90 per 100,000 people), “robbery” (47 per 100,000), and “theft and related offenses” (2640 per 100,000). Three categories, thefts from cars, burglary, and assaults, are fairly high in New Zealand. But the statistics also include such things as “disorderly conduct” (532 per 100,000), which is probably not considered a true crime in other countries.

In the United States for 2014 the FBI Uniform Crime Report statistics are 365 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants and 2,596 property crimes per 100,000 inhabitants. Again, the categories don’t correspond with New Zealand’s categories. But, yes, there are more murders in the United States. The FBI report gives a rate of 4.5 “murders and negligent manslaughters” in the US for 2014, compared to New Zealand’s rate of 1.5 per 100,000. Yes, more people do get killed in the United States.

Aside from this, it is difficult to compare the two countries, although at least one New Zealand Ministry of Justice comparison in the past showed markedly less violent crime in all categories in New Zealand than the United States. Looking at the numbers, however, I was a bit surprised. New Zealand isn’t quite as docile crime-wise as it may appear. Like most other countries, most of the crime occurs in the larger cities, particularly Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch for New Zealand.

Maoris in New Zealand have a disproportionately higher rate of victimization than other groups in New Zealand. One report in 2006 showed that almost 47% of Maoris were victims of crime. Sexual violence and violence against partners is particularly high in this group, and continual efforts are made to change ingrained habits that partner abuse is okay.

Imprisonment rates in New Zealand are around 200 per 100,000 persons, while the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world with 700 people per 100,000 people being in prison. The death penalty was abolished in New Zealand in 1989.

There are more police per capita in the US than in New Zealand.

So . . . the United States certainly has more murder, and perhaps more violent crime than New Zealand, but there is still crime here. Although it is not the idyllic, crime-free place some might imagine, I do, however, feel safer here. Granted, we do live in a beach town, and perhaps it’s my naiveté, but the thing I notice here compared to the United States is I am less likely to get bad vibes from groups of guys hanging around in New Zealand. There are never any smart-ass comments, rarely loud music in public places, less honking horns and yelling things, less or no people hassling you. People behave here more often than not. And aberrant behavior seems to be less tolerated here.

How about politeness? Obviously subjective, politeness includes such things as overall friendliness, manners, and how welcoming people are to strangers. In all studies, New Zealand comes out near the top on most lists. And it’s true. The people here in New Zealand are polite. They are less confrontational, less loud, and less obnoxious. In a word, they are just plain nice.

It’s funny though when I talk to people here about their visits to the United States, they invariably say how kind and friendly everyone was in the United States. Maybe they just went to Texas.

There is one area where Kiwis might not be considered “polite”—when you are a pedestrian crossing a road. If you are at a marked crosswalk, they will obediently come to a stop and let you pass. Otherwise, beware. In some places in the US, people blithely step out in front of traffic, and expect the traffic to stop. Don’t try that here. You will be run over. Pedestrians don’t expect cars to stop or slow down, and cars don’t expect pedestrians to step out in front of them. At crosswalks, cars will stop; anyplace else, don’t expect it. The rules are the rules (Hillary Clinton wouldn’t do well here, would she?).

So how does all this come together—crime and politeness?

New Zealand has its own TV show similar to “Cops”—you know, “What’cha gonna when they come for you, bad boys, bad boys.” Anyway, it’s the New Zealand version.

First, in the US version, it would go something like this. A police officer would pull someone over, words would be exchanged, lots of swearing, a gun battle would ensue, another unrelated car would careen off the highway striking the officer’s cruiser, the perpetrator would meanwhile flee in his own vehicle leading to a high speed chase through a large metropolitan area, numerous people’s lives would be endangered, much property would be destroyed, before the culprit finally rolls his car numerous times, emerges from the car unscathed, is surrounded by a Swat-team with guns drawn, thrown to the ground and hauled off to jail.

Not in the New Zealand. The New Zealand version of “Cops” goes something like this. A police officer—often they are women—will pull someone over for some traffic violation. Pleasantries will be exchanged.

“You know you broke the law, mate.”

“Truly sorry about that.”

“Have to give you a fine.”

“Alright then.”

And after exchanging further pleasantries, they both drive off.

Oh, sometimes on the New Zealand version of the show people are drunk (‘pissed’ in New Zealand vernacular), but there aren’t as many of the totally obnoxious drunks that seem to populate America’s “Cops” programming. Also, no overweight women in halter tops and fewer shirtless guys with bad teeth. No meth motels.

On a more personal level, another intersection of what may be considered crime and politeness occurred a few weeks ago when my son casually mentioned that some drunk guy had crawled through his downstairs bedroom window the previous night.

“What!”

“Yeah, he was really drunk and crawled through the window and he was looking for some girl. He kept repeating her name, ‘Carey, Carey, Carey’”.

I told him he had the wrong house, my son said, and pointed him toward the front door.

“Why didn’t you wake us up? Did you see him leave?”

“No. I was tired.”

“Well, how could you be sure he wouldn’t go upstairs to where we were?” I asked.

“Well, I figured if he went upstairs you could handle it.”

“Are you sure it just wasn’t a dream?”

We went downstairs and I looked around. A vent outside the window was slightly smashed down.

A few days later there was bottle of wine on our doorstep and a note: “Sorry about the other night, I was drunk and got the wrong house, hope I didn’t scare you too much. Enjoy the wine. From the crazy man who climbed through the window.”

Only in New Zealand.

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