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Police Ten 7 has been on air since July 2002 and screened more than 500 episodes - making it one of the longest-running locally produced television programmes in New Zealand’s broadcasting history.
While the producers can boast about a television success story, it's more the tangible results that the show helps New Zealand Police to achieve that are worthy of praise.
To date Police Ten 7 has screened more than 2,000 serious unsolved cases and made more than 800 arrests, with more than 500 directly attributed to the help and/or information provided by its viewers.
As a programme screens on air, the 0800 number is dispatched to the case officers in charge of the unsolved cases or wanted faces that appear on that episode. Callers then get to speak directly with the detectives and officers in charge of those cases.
Each episode varies in its public response. Some weeks Police are receiving calls before an item has even finished screening. Some case officers get more than 30 phone calls while others get as few as five. Police Ten 7 Producer Sarah-Luise Whatford says, “It’s not a case of the quantity of the calls, but who calls. It only takes one person watching at the ‘right’ time for Police to get positive results.”
The crimes vary and cover a broad range; however, producers say that they have covered numerous aggravated robberies, generally in dairies and superettes where cash and cigarettes are likely to be held.
Prevention is a key focus of New Zealand Police. In conjunction with this, there has been an effort in the programme to shift the focus of the 'current crime' segment away from the offenders' behaviour to the points of view of the victims. Sarah-Luise says, “We believe that focusing on what the victims did right in certain situations has real benefits. It essentially means we are giving our viewers advice on how they can keep themselves and their families safe, and also reminds viewers that there are real people behind the cases we feature. Sometimes that is the thing that motivates people to pick up the phone.
“Crime isn’t really increasing, but the tools that New Zealand Police has to make a dent in crime have changed.
Police Ten 7 is just one of those tools and its popularity translates into results for Police. The more people who view the show, the better the chance that Police will reach the right people, who in turn will call the 0800 TEN 7 INFO line.”
Social media is now also playing a role in helping to solve crime and prevent victimisation. Facebook has helped crack a couple of cases. For example, Facebook helped to identify a young woman responsible for a serious aggravated robbery. There were quite clear images of the robbery and assault taking place. The case was profiled on Police Ten 7 then uploaded to Police Ten 7 Facebook page – in front of its 55,000 plus followers. The offender made some comments boasting of her involvement, and some of her friends also made comments on her page – ultimately leading to her arrest. She was sentenced to time in prison.
Over the years there have been screeds of anecdotal success stories where arrests have been made, criminals identified and justice upheld as a result of the success of Police Ten 7.
Initially the programme was hosted by Graham Bell, who presented 426 episodes. That changed in 2014, with Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto having hosted more than 95 episodes. Rob Lemoto says this role has given him a number of opportunities to interact positively with different community groups; something he doesn’t take lightly given his ability to balance the show with the work he undertakes with Bay of Plenty Child Protection.
When he was weighing up whether to apply for the position, a colleague stated to him that this was the only show actively assisting in the apprehension of people 'on the run' and people involved in serious crime. This to Rob was definitely a selling point and he says he gets great satisfaction from the large number of calls received each week as a result of the show.
“In this time I have seen some great catches and results that I don’t believe we would have obtained if the officers in charge of those investigations hadn’t explored using this programme as one of the many investigative tools available to them.
"The sheer number of communities that tune in and actively participate still amazes me and shows that our public are certainly interested in doing their bit to help.
"I have recently been invited to speak at a large hui for Te Puna Hauora in the
Bay of Plenty. The officer organising this hui has since advised me that the numbers attending have grown quite considerably since I let the organisers know I was participating – and we now have representatives from most iwi from the East Coast to Katikati.
I know that this is due to interest in my current role, but I will happily use any opportunity to reach areas of the community that are our most at risk!
"I think it’s fair to say that anyone who knows me knows of my pride in working for New Zealand Police. Working on Police Ten 7 has certainly allowed me to show why I feel this way. I have always taken time to speak with school groups and community groups about my experiences and the positive direction in which we as an organisation are heading. As Police officers we are already afforded opportunities to be positive role models in our communities and I have found that the added attention that kids and teenagers attach to anyone remotely involved with TV has allowed me an opportunity to spread our message to a wider audience.”
Police Ten 7 has definitely become a valuable tool for Police. They know the reach that Police Ten 7 has, so getting a wanted person’s face or an unsolved case on the programme can get them instant results and that saves valuable time in the long run. Some of the key positives of the show are the goodwill it raises towards Police in communities, how much people appreciate the work that Police do and how much people do want to help.
Rob Lemoto is constantly approached by people who watch Police Ten 7. “The feedback is always positive and we know from the number of people who contact us that the vast majority of New Zealanders just want to help, and feel pride in their communities.”