City guardians back on patrol

Business owner Sarah Pearson. Photo/Andrew Warner/NZME

“Tri-bloody-umphant”.  That sums up how many inner-city business owners feel about a Rotorua Lakes Council u-turn that saw the return of CBD security in Rotorua, reinstating patrols and Safe City Guardians' security duties after pressure from the public.

On October 6 the council announced the Safe City Guardians would become less security-focused, taking on a more “ambassadorial” role, and security patrols by council contractor Watchdog would be wound down. 

Honeycomb Hair and Beauty on Tutanekai St owner Sarah Pearson had expressed dismay early last week about that decision and was joined by other retailers who said they felt less safe as a result. 

On Friday, Pearson claimed the reinstatement was “friggen awesome” and she felt “tri-bloody-umphant”. 

“It’s about time they start to listen to business owners. We need to encourage tourists to look at the tulips but there aren’t going to be any tulips because people pick them … if there’s no bloody security. Who are we meant to call? Ghostbusters?” 

Reg Hennessy of Hennessy’s Irish Bar says he had been surprised business owners weren’t informed of the initial decision.

He says his business did not often use the guardians but was aware many smaller retailers found them “particularly helpful”.

Publican Reg Hennessy. Photo/Andrew Warner/NZME 

Hennessy says in his opinion the council may have been “too quick to act” to roll back the services earlier in the month.

“I challenge the council and the government to sit down and get a plan sorted out for all our people.” 

McLeods Booksellers assistant manager Gaby West says it was a “good thing” that the inner city security measures were reinstated.

“A lot of retailers don’t want to bother the police about minor issues. It’s good to have a visible presence of somebody who can step in.”

Hello World Travel Rotorua owner Deborah Kay says she was “rapt” and it was “absolutely the right decision”.

She had had to call on the guardians “many times” and while crime had dropped following the Covid-19 lockdown, it had started to increase again.

Travel agent Deborah Kay. Photo/Andrew Warner/NZME 

“The undesirables are back," she says. 

“If we can have some control in the city, even better.” 

Backdoor manager Christina Ranga says she was “absolutely stoked” at the decision. 

She says it was sad the council did not appear to have communicated with businesses about the change “as we have to deal with it on a daily basis”. 

House of Elliott Hairdressing owner Craig Elliott says he was “very relieved common sense has prevailed”. 

Steiners Interiors owner Mike Steiner says he welcomed the move but it was a “sad indictment” that the security was required in the city.

He says a more comprehensive inter-agency approach was needed to combat the issues.

“It’s not a good use of money, but it’s a necessary use of money.” 

The council says the cost of security contractors, VR Security and Watchdog, had been $409,000 for the 2019/20 financial year and the cost of the Safe City Guardians was about $50,500 for the same period.

On Friday, council operations manager Jocelyn Mikaere stated she expected the cost of the service to be similar to last year.

“These costs will come out of existing budgets,” Mikaere says.

“As we move into the summer months, we will continue to monitor trends in the CBD and adapt our response accordingly.”

Asked what the council would have saved had the service been permanently axed, Mikaere says that estimate would depend on “what level of service [is] required throughout the coming year”.

Asked for the council’s response to comments from business owners that council had not consulted with them over the change to the level of security service, Mikaere says the council had made a decision “at an operational level” and would be “looking at better ways to engage with the inner-city community going forward as we establish what levels of service are required.”

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