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Police cold-calling strategy labelled ’creepy’

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A rights watchdog has called on police to stop a new cold-calling strategy designed to prevent burglaries, saying it's "creepy".

Since late December, Dunedin police have been door-knocking previous offenders, asking about their situation and offering support to prevent reoffending.

Police hoped the method would avert a usual spike in crime at this time of year, but Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Thomas Beagle said today it sounded like officers were hassling innocent people.

"These people have been through the justice system. They've been punished. They've hopefully rehabilitated themselves."

He said the blanket approach suggested the police believed "once a criminal, always a criminal".

"It's got to be a big negative if you think you're doing the right thing, living a responsible life, to have the police come round and say 'look, we know you're bad'."

Mr Beagle said the method had overtones of the film Minority Report in which officers used psychic technology to arrest murderers, before they committed any crime.

"It sounds a bit a creepy to me ... our police aren't telepaths, they can't see the future, and so they shouldn't be doing this."

Otago coastal prevention manager Kelvin Lloyd said the cold-calling plan was just one in a suite of strategies being trialled to stop reoffending.

He said officers had visited roughly a dozen former offenders who were potentially still at-risk to ask how they were going.

"It's not heavy. It's just 'actually, we don't want you to be an offender. Is there something we can do to stop that happening?'."

"Are there some referrals we can make? Are there some agencies that can help?"

Inspector Lloyd accepted the method ran the risk of sending the wrong message, but said officers had so far received a good response.

"It's certainly not aimed at harrassing anyone out in the community. It's purely about trying to keep some people who are potentially at risk out of the court system."

Human rights lawyer Michael Bott said the approach could be very useful in supporting recidivist burglars who may otherwise be isolated.

"If the police are seen not to drive or persecute them, but to actually have an interest in them, that may assist with rehabilitation."

But he stressed police would have to be careful, as the method had the potential for abuse.

"It's a fine balance between visiting and enquiring as to how someone is and persecuting and showing undue attention."

Mr Bott said "untoward police attention" could have the opposite effect and actually increase stress and encourage reoffending.

Police are to review the strategy in early February before deciding whether to roll it out more widely.

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