Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Police report large increase in MIQ violence and disorder

There were 215 Covid-19 cases in the community today and one person with the virus has died. Video / NZ Herald

By Katie Todd for RNZ

Police figures indicate more than a four-fold increase in violence and disorder in MIQ hotels this year, compared with last year.

In 10 months from January 12police logged 259 callouts to the hotels, and laid just four charges, compared with just 57 incidents in the nine-and-a-half months prior.

Unions and MIQ officials say the largest increase has been in the three months since the Delta outbreak, when there has been more community cases and contacts staying in MIQ.

The callouts include 154 reports of drunk, disruptive, abusive or physically aggressive guests, 69 family harm incidents and 36 of threatened or attempted self-harm.

Last year there were 25 reports of family harm and 22 of threatened or attempted self-harm.

The figures come after MIQ health staff were warned not to walk through the hotels alone, and to take a security escort when visiting certain guests, earlier this month.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said there had been a definite change in the behaviour police officers were seeing at MIQ hotels.

“There’s lot of people who are a lot angrier and a lot less likely to follow directions that police have to deal with, and certainly alcohol continues to be a significant problem,” he said.

Cahill believed the main cause was community cases and contacts being moved to MIQ at very short notice, in stressful circumstances.

Despite the 259 reported incidents the police laid just four charges – two for disorder and two for family harm.

Cahill accepted that figure was low, but said officers had to tread carefully where Covid-19 could be present and focus on “settling the immediate situation”.

“They have to put themselves at risk dealing with these people. They are possibly positive and its very likely many of them are.

“But there’s also limited options.

In the community you can remove them to other addresses or if necessary, you can arrest them and keep them in custody. It’s a lot harder to do if someone’s positive. You can’t just move them to another address, it’s much harder to separate people, and taking someone to a police station puts that whole area at risk,” he said.

“Police have taken a pretty practical approach to this, and that means a lot of warnings have been issued or possibly summonses where appropriate.”

MIQ officials said people were sometimes moved to separate rooms – or even separate hotels.

The Women’s Refuge said that was the case for one woman who recently sought help from abuse using its shielded website.

The refuge alerted the police and its chief executive Ang Jury said officers quickly and “very successfully” intervened, and took the perpetrator to another room.

She said the number of family harm incidents didn’t seem high compared with the number of people who have been through MIQ – however nobody should have to put up with threats or abuse in their MIQ room.

“If someone is in imminent danger do not think that just because you’re in MIQ, you have to remain unsafe.

Reach out for help, scream for help, leave if you absolutely have to.”

In a statement, Head of MIQ Brigadier Rose King said guests who feel unsafe can contact staff, who are “attuned to many of the different circumstances people in the facilities encounter”, or specialist services listed in their welcome pack.

She said violence made up a small amount of the overall rule-breaks but those had been on the rise since the Delta outbreak.

MIQ officials keep a record of “behavioural incidents” among MIQ guests – from people out of their room without a reason, to making threats, to physical aggression and family harm.

There were 292 in three months since mid-August, including 11 “high level” incidents such as domestic or family violence, physical aggression, self-harm, or possession of illegal substances.

Of the “medium level” incidents – like persistent threatening behaviour, repeated drunk or disorderly behaviour, people videoing and or photographing others or refusing to engage with staff – there were 102.

There were 179 “low-level” incidents, such as people leaving their room without a reason, or drunk or disorderly behaviour.

MIQ officials were unable to indicate how much of an increase there had been in behavioural incidents compared with the months before the Delta outbreak, but confirmed the number had gone up.

King said staff were trained in the management of challenging behaviour, and applied the most appropriate responses.

She said any workers who needed support were encouraged to talk to reach out.

“This could be through their manager, a colleague, GP or a friend or family member. There is also access to the Employee Assistance Programme.”

However E Tu union organiser Mat Danaher believed officials could do more to keep guests and staff safe – ideally an “integrated, holistic approach around social work and policing so that frontline MIQ staff aren’t actually being threatened with violence”.

“So [they] aren’t actually having to go to work worried about their personal safety – above and beyond ongoing concerns they have around being exposed to Covid,” he said.

Cahill hoped the reduction to seven-day stays for returnees would take some pressure off MIQ and helps reduce the amount of violence in the hotels.

He said sending more police to MIQ hotels was out of the question, as their resources have already been stretched thin by Covid-19.

‘There’s so much going on in Covid times. They just don’t have further resources.

They have to deal with the number of staff they’ve got at the moment,” he said.

Rose King said people staying in MIQ facilities were expected to act responsibly, appropriately and considerately.

“MIQ is reflective of society and had people from all walks of life.

All of the things that happen out in the world, happen in MIQ too – sometimes that means some poor behaviour, and that’s taken very seriously.”

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