Law and Order Party? Or Posturing Populist PR Party?

National are trying to promote themselves as ‘the law and order party’, but are at risk of being seen more as a shallow, cynical, posturing populist PR party.

It may be popular to pick on gangs, and for good reason, some gang activities deserve condemnation. But we have had gangs for decades, and political rhetoric hasn’t made them disappear.

One problem with National’s ‘Strike Force Raptor’ proposal to harass gangs, which Simon Bridges described as “devastatingly effective” in Australia, is that they may disappear from view, but not go away.

National PR:

I don’t know what “take back control” is supposed to mean. Does National want the Government to take control of the drug trade? National has opposed liberalisation of cannabis laws, which leaves the drug for gangs to sell.

RNZ: Australian ex-cop blasts National’s ‘Strike Force Raptor’ plan

A former Australian detective has ridiculed National’s zero-tolerance approach to gangs, saying the strategy has been a “disaster” across the ditch.

National leader Simon Bridges repeatedly described the unit as “devastatingly effective” and referenced media reports which claimed it was driving outlaw bikies into extinction.

But former NSW detective Mike Kennedy told RNZ that was “nonsense” and Mr Bridges was “living a dream” if he believed that.

“He needs to pull his head out of whatever it’s stuck in because … [gangs] exist. They’re always going to exist. They just go underground.

“I’m not a bleeding heart liberal,” he said. “But [the zero-tolerance strategy has] just been a disaster.”

Dr Kennedy spent much of his time with the police as an undercover officer working in organised crime and is now a senior lecturer at Western Sydney University.

He said there was no evidence to suggest that gang numbers had fallen dramatically since the formation of Strike Force Raptor a decade ago.

“Outlaw motorcycle gangs are unregulated, so how would you know?” he said. “They’re not required to pay a fee … and register with government. So any suggestion that the numbers are down is just nonsense.”

Dr Kennedy said the problem had just been driven underground.

“People don’t stop being members of groups just because they’ve been arrested. They go into jail, they reinforce themselves, they come out, [and] they get more of a reason to remain in the group they’re in.”

Police officers needed a working relationship with communities, including gang members, so they would cooperate with investigations, he said.


A NSW Review of police use of powers under the Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Act 2012

Under the Crimes (Criminal Organisations Control) Act 2012, the Supreme Court can declare that an organisation is a ‘criminal organisation’ and make control orders in relation to its members. These orders may restrict the ability of members to associate with each other and recruit others to the organisation, and prohibit them from participating in a range of otherwise lawful activities. Overall, the declaration and orders may disrupt and restrict the activities of the organisation.

Despite the concerted efforts of a dedicated unit within the Gangs Squad of the NSW Police Force, which spent over three years preparing applications in preparation for declarations under the 2012 Act, no application has yet been brought to Court. As a result, no organisation has been declared to be a criminal organisation under the scheme. The NSW Police Force advised us that work on these applications ceased in 2015, and that it does not intend to resource such work in the future.

During consultations with our office, operational police advised us that the procedural requirements of the Act are onerous, resource-intensive, and involve difficulties that ultimately prevented police making an application to the Court. The decision to stop working on applications was made against the background that police have been provided with other powers they can more effectively use to target OMCGs and other criminal organisations, such as a modernised consorting offence, expanded
powers to search for firearms, and restrictions on entry to licensed premises by people wearing OMCG ‘colours’ and insignia.

Police in other states and territories have experienced similar difficulties in successfully implementing comparable legislation. No declarations have been made in relation to any organisations.

In my view, given the problems identified by police that have prevented them from exercising the powers under this Act, and the fact that police have alternative powers to disrupt the activities of criminal organisations, it would be in the public interest for the Act to be repealed.

I have made this the only recommendation in my report.

Professor John McMillan AO
Acting Ombudsman

(November 2016)

National’s proposals were not hard policy, they said they were only at a ‘discussion’ stage, but their PR tried to push populist buttons. They seem to have put a lot more work into PR than research.

Or maybe Bridges just doesn’t care as along as he attracts some votes. It’s debatable whether that will succeed, especialy if their propasals unravel.

Gang Membership on the rise

Guest  post from Gezza:

Stuff – Patched gang members increase: Opposition says Government soft on crime

Despite police efforts to up the ante on tackling gang-related crime, patched membership has increased.

The Opposition has put the increase in gang affiliation down to the Government taking what it says is a “soft on crime approach” and putting too much effort in reducing the prison population.

The figures supplied to National by Police Minister Stuart Nash, show about 1400 more people have joined a gang since the Government took office in 2017 and National leader Simon Bridges blames a lack of action by the Government.

The latest female extension of the Mongrel Mob, brazen meetings in public places like Te Mata Peak and gang members refusing to hand in illegal firearms was concerning, he said.

The Government’s focus has been on reducing prison numbers at any cost, but it has no plan to reduce crime. An increase in gang membership means an increase in crime in our communities and more victims,” he said.

“It’s no secret. We hate gangs… we are thinking about how we can crack down on gangs,” [Bridges] said.

[Police Minister Stuart] Nash has repeatedly said there was a focus on gangs and organised crime, which had been identified as a priority area in the Coalition Government Agreement. Extra police were being deployed to target organised crime.

Last week, he announced a new batch of graduating constables would be tackling gang-related crime and working to reduce harm from drugs like methamphetamine.
In May, he said a gang focus police unit being set up in Hawke’s Bay would go some way to curb the rise of gang violence in the region.

In April he said police had dealt a major blow to the Comanchero gang with the arrest of senior gang leaders and seizure of nearly $4 million of assets. Police efforts reflected the Government’s commitment to go hard on organised crime, he said…

I must admit I’m with Bridges on this. Current measures to tackle the gangs continually infesting, intimidating & sometimes effectively controlling access to, our communities are tinkering around the edges. The time for society, and Maori society in particular, making excuses for putting up with this blight upon the nation, & all the shocking donestic violence & other negative impacts & social statistics they bring to townships & suburbs, should be over.

What do we do about them? How do we get them socially shunned, & young folk dissuaded from getting sucked into their thuggery & their false & distorted sense of “family” akin, in my view, to that of the Sicilian & American mafiosi?

Stupid National policy: fining parents of school leavers

My disappointment with the direction National is going in has increased even more.

Stuff: Fines for parents of school drop-outs considered for National Party policy

Fines for parents of school drop-outs are among several tough welfare policies the National Party is floating ahead of the 2020 election.

National leader Simon Bridges says New Zealanders know there’s deep-set poverty and welfare dependence problems, and is promising to take Labour on with policies that show “backbone”.

While Bridges wouldn’t speak directly to the policies being considered, it’s understood they include fines of up to $3000 for parents of children who leave high school and don’t enter further education and training.

That’s even worse than fining parents if students leave early. If an 18 year old left school and didn’t enter enter further education and training would National really consider fining their parents for not forcing them to do something they obviously don’t want to do?

There’s more:

National is considering are: more obligations and sanctions for beneficiaries, cutting the number receiving welfare by 25 per cent, and requiring gang members to prove they don’t have illegally-sourced income before receiving the benefit.

Beneficiary bashing is not new, but seems to be a swing back to pandering to people who are unlikely to switch votes anyway.

Bridges said: “It’s no secret. We hate gangs … We are thinking about how we can crack down on gangs.”

Why stop at gangs? It’ would be hard to legally define ‘gang’ anyway. Why not make everyone prove they don’t have illegally-sourced income? And include illegally sourced political donations.

RNZ: Will National propose fines for parents of truant teens? (with audio):

Should parents of teenagers who leave school early and don’t go into education or training be fined?

It’s one of the policies the National Party is reportedly looking into as part of its social policy review.

Other policies under consideration are requiring gang members to prove they don’t have illegal income before getting a benefit, and reassessing the obligations of people who are on the benefit.

Leader Simon Bridges is being coy about the specifics – but says these are priority issues for National.

Priority issues for National? I think a higher priority issue for National is leadership – or more specifically, a lack of decent leadership. Bridges seems to the best chance of getting Labour and Greens in power next year.

I have a better proposal – fine MPs who waste time and (taxpayer) money on stupid policies. Especially party leaders.



Gang differences over handing in semi-automatic weapons

There was some silly public defiance of the change of firearm regulations requiring high powered semi-automatic firearms to be handed in.

Like Gang bosses say weapons won’t be handed back after Christchurch mosque shooting

Ask yourself – Sonny Fatu says – how many mass shootings in New Zealand have been committed by gang members? None, he says.

“And how many have been committed by someone of Pākehā origin? Many if we include the terror raids of marae when colonialists stole land and killed women and children, but in more recent times we have Aramoana and now this – the murder of 50 innocent people.”

Fatu is president of the Waikato branch of the Mongrel Mob.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks, the Mongrel Mob was criticised for having used sieg heil slogans and swastikas. The Waikato chapter stopped the practice four years ago.

The gang was also criticised for offering to provide security around mosques at services marking the death of 50 Muslims in the Christchurch terror attack. This was a crude PR ploy and gang members would turn in their own guns if they were genuine, one commentator suggested.

But Fatu accuses Pākehā commentators of diverting attention away from the Christchurch mosque killer. The real issue, he says, is racism.

“Our brown brothers and sisters shouldn’t have to fix this for them – they, we, have endured enough.”

“Will gangs get rid of their weapons? No,” Fatu says. “Because of who we are, we can’t guarantee our own safety.”

A report by the Law and Order Select Committee in April 2017 described unlawful firearms possession is an integral aspect of New Zealand’s gang culture. A 2014 police analysis showed 44 per cent of gang members had been charged with firearms offences.

But there has been a response to this, by politicians and by other gang members.

Newshub:  ‘You will hand them back’: Winston Peters’ warning to gangs over gun law reform

Winston Peters…

…has issued a warning to gang members who say they won’t be handing over their guns despite the Government’s crackdown.

The Deputy Prime Minister said on Monday that official legislation had been agreed upon by Cabinet to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, among other gun law reforms.

When asked how the Government would respond to gang members who refuse to hand over their weapons, Peters said the message will be clear: “You will be handing them back to the Government or some lawful authority.

“We don’t plan to fail on this… the process will apply to them, the same for any law abiding citizen in this country who has an armament that is legal but is about to be made illegal.”

“We intend to enforce the law and it’s not a matter of cooperation – it’s a matter of being obliged to conform with the law of this country or be operating illegally for which there will be consequences,” Peters said.

Police Minister Stuart Nash…

…who joined Peters at his post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, said the penalties for carrying illegal firearms have increased “substantially”.

Under the legislation, unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm in a public place would result in seven years imprisonment, and using a prohibited firearm to resist arrest would carry a penalty of 10 years in prison.

“I found it abhorrent that you could have gang members in the media publicly saying that they were going to break the law. We take that very, very seriously,” Nash said.

People who illegally posses firearms tend to try to keep them hidden, so it may be difficult to remove all military style or semi-automatic weapons that are now illegal, but the new regulations and pending law changes will make it easier to seize any that are found.

RNZ:  National’s Judith Collins wants tougher action on gangs with guns

National Party MP Judith Collins…

…is urging the government to crack down on gangs with illegal firearms by giving the police greater powers to raid gang homes.

“We also saw people like gang members coming out and saying they were with the Muslim New Zealanders and then someone asked them the question, ‘what about giving up your illegal firearms?’

“Well I tell you what … best way forward is to give the police the powers, give them the fire power to do it, and get on and take them.”

At the Arms Amendment Bill’s first reading in Parliament yesterday, she urged the government to consider firearm prohibition orders against gangs.

“One of the things I thought was most important was the issue around firearm prohibition orders, to enable to police to go into gang houses and seize firearms, whether they know for certain they are there or not.

“I’m sick and tired of listening to people emoting about how they’re feeling sorry, but they’re not going to give up their firearms.”

National MP Mark Mitchell…

“The fact that they were flouting the authority that this Parliament has, that this country has, in saying that they are not going to observe the legislation that this Parliament is passing.

“I 100 percent support in taking the strongest possible line that we can against gangs.”

But Mongrel Mob member Tai Pairama…

…said many gang members will surrender illegal firearms, despite what the gang’s Waikato president said.

“That’s his personal opinion, it’s not the opinion of the rest of the nation. The views are in his own inner circle, and some people are disregarding some of his comments.”

Plenty of time to hand them in.

Owners of illegal firearms have until the end of September to hand them into authorities.

Those who do not, including gang members, could face up to 10 years in prison.

I wonder whether the semi-automatic buy-back scheme will include or exclude illegally obtained weapons.

Police numbers increased to combat serious and organised crime

This has already been signalled, but Police Minister Stuart Nash has released details on a push to police serious and organised crime and gangs more.

Extra police to combat organised crime

The deployment of 500 extra Police to target organised crime will make significant inroads to efforts to reduce victimisation and improve the wellbeing of our communities, says Police Minister Stuart Nash.

“The Commissioner of Police has today revealed details of how the additional frontline officers will be allocated as part of the unprecedented effort to prevent and combat serious and organised crime,” says Mr Nash.

“Areas of focus include disrupting trans-national criminal groups, national and local gangs, cyber-crime, money laundering and child exploitation. The purpose is to prevent crime and reduce the harm to our communities from the supply of drugs, serious violence and other offending.”

“The 500 extra specialist police are part of the Coalition Agreement with New Zealand First to strive for 1800 extra officers. Gangs and disruption of organised crime was also identified as a priority area in the Coalition Agreement. Extra officers at both district and national level will truly make a difference in our communities.

“Organised criminals and gangs are supplying methamphetamine to our communities with no regard for the significant harm it causes, and these extra police will be going after them.

“Police will be targeting our most serious offenders and criminal leaders to take them off the street. We need to cut the head off the snake. But police will also be looking to help others on the periphery of gang life and other vulnerable people to get the help they need to fight addiction, break the cycle, and improve their lives.”

A further 200 district-based officers will support the focus on preventing organised crime. The new investment also provides for the specialist skills and the tools required for effective 21st-century policing, including the latest technology to combat organised crime.

“The Government’s long term plan makes it a priority to improve the wellbeing of families and communities. We are focussing on preventing crime and reducing reoffending in order to keep our communities safe”, Mr Nash says.



Gilbert: National Party’s drug and gang policy is cynical and dangerous

Sociologist and expert on gangs Jarrod Gilbert has responded to National’s gang and drugs policy.

Dr Jarrod Gilbert @NZH: National Party’s drug and gang policy is cynical and dangerous

The history of gangs and politics stretches back to Norm Kirk, who before the 1972 election promised to ‘take the bike off the bikies’. Big Norm never did take the bikes of the bikies but he did get elected. And ever since failed or foolish policies have made way for the fact that the politics of them worked.

Perhaps because this is such an old trick, politicians now have to ramp up the gimmick to get traction. Labour’s Stuart Nash said he would simply ‘crush the gangs’ if elected, but perhaps because we’d heard that so many times before most of us just sniggered. Last time it was Judith Collins saying that gangs were targeting wealthy school children to sell P to. Why wealthy school children? Well, that’s the demographic of her voters, so it made the issue more relevant. The fact there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support the claim was beside the point.

We can roll our eyes at that nonsense, but Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett’s latest effort is far more sinister.

National is proposing to give police powers to search gang members without a warrant. Allowing police the power to march through people’s houses at their will is a power that if targeted against anybody else (the parents of wealthy school children, for instance) would be seen as completely outrageous.

But as Bennett said, ‘some people have fewer rights than others.’ And that’s a statement that should trouble us, particularly when the Prime Minister supports it by saying, ‘it’s good that we don’t have a written constitution it’s enabled the country to deal with issues in a practical way.’

But this isn’t even practical. Far from it. Bennett said on Twitter that ‘scumbag gangs don’t deserve protection’. But the majority of drug dealers aren’t gang members, so why do those scumbags have greater rights than those in a gang?

Gangs are an easy political target, especially in an election campaign.

Also, who constitute a gang member may sound like an easy question, but it isn’t. I’ve been confused for one by police because of my research associations – and I can tell you that having the police target you unjustly is incredibly unpleasant. Furthermore, what if your son is in a gang and he’s staying with you, can your house then be searched without a warrant? How far does the discretion extend? How many times can a gang member’s house be searched without finding anything before such searches are stopped?

That much power vested in police without judicial oversight is concerning but because it says ‘gang’ fewer people will be concerned: at least that’s what Bennett is backing on.

It looks like cynical targeting of voters.

The proposed law will not have any meaningful impact on the drug trade in New Zealand. But it does speak to who we are as a country. Paula Bennett ought be called out in the strongest possible terms for this cynical politicking.

Our country, and the principles of Western justice that underpin it, are more valuable than a political party’s advantage on the hustings.

It’s not that I think we shouldn’t vote for Paula Bennet. I think she should resign.

I don’t know if it warrants a resignation of the Minister of Police – it is a proposal in an election campaign. Voters get to decide whether ministers deserve to be returned as MPs, to an extent.

Many policies proposed in election campaigns never happen.

But this is a very troubling proposal from Bennett, and from National.

Geiringer on National’s gang ‘crack down’ policy

Yesterday Paula Bennett, the current Minister of Police, announced new policy that would ‘crack down on gangs and drugs’ – see National’s gang and drugs policy.

The most contentious parts of this policy:

  • Giving Police new power to search the cars and houses of the most serious criminal gang members at any time to ensure they don’t have firearms through new Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs)
  • Imposing new obligations on gang members on a benefit so that if they can’t justify expensive assets, they can have their benefit cancelled or be declined a benefit

Bennett conceded it would reduce the human rights of ‘criminals’ – at the search stage they have not been convicted.

@BarristerNZ (Felix Geiringer) tweeted:

A Twitter rant about human rights, & how human rights law does not interfere with the legitimate conduct of police investigations.

Human rights law merely sets a minimum standard of State behaviour that must be afforded to all so we live in a free & democratic society.

Human rights law does not exempt anyone from our criminal laws. It is not even a guarantee of good treatment.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act does not guarantee freedom from being searched, just from being unreasonably searched.

Our State isn’t prohibited from discriminating on the basis someone commits crimes, only on grounds like sex, race, religion, disability.

Powers to search usually require reasonable grounds –basically info that means it’s reasonable to think thing being searched for is there.

Limitations on our rights are also permitted so long as they are demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

Justifiable limitations need to be for a legitimate purpose, rationally connected to achieving that purpose, and proportionate.

National saying it will deny human rights to worst criminals is appealing to our basest instincts, but it doesn’t make policing sense.

It means conducting searches when a reasonable assessment of the information the Police holds gives no basis to justify such a search.

It means conducting a series of searches when that targets people on grounds of sex, sexuality, race, or religion, not just criminality.

It means conducting unreasonable searches, and doing so in a way that doesn’t reduce crime, or achieves little while intruding lots. In other words, it may legalise bad policing but does nothing to extend the powers of police doing good work to reduce crime.

Human rights are a collective, not just individual, good. We all benefit from their protection, & from the society they create.

But human rights law only works in this way if it is universal and inalienable. Don’t let National tell you otherwise.

Police can already search any place or vehicle w/o a warrant w reasonable grounds to suspect there’s a firearm in breach of the Arms Act or a lawful firearm used in serious crime, that a deranged person may use to hurt someone, possessed by subject of a protection order possessed by someone against whom there are grounds for a protection order, or that is evidence of serious crime or Arms Act breach.

If police have reasonable grounds to suspect a crime & reasonable grounds to believe there is evidence they can get a warrant. But also in many drugs cases, if they think the evidence may get destroyed while they wait for a warrant they can go ahead & search without one.

These are all powers that already exist. The suggestion that the police are somehow hamstrung in gang drugs & guns cases is fiction.


National’s gang and drugs policy

Yesterday Paula Bennett, the Minister of Police, announced new policy to ‘crack down on gangs and drugs’. It was controversial in particular because it threatened to reduce the human rights of people deemed to be ‘criminal’.

Here is National’s full announcement.

New crack down on gangs and drugs

National will redouble its efforts to stop drugs getting into the country, stamp out meth labs and disrupt the supply networks as part of a refreshed Methamphetamine Action Plan.

A re-elected National Government will invest $82 million over four years to tackle methamphetamine with a range of tough measures to clamp down hard on organised crime and drug dealers, Police spokesperson Paula Bennett says.

It will also fund more treatment places for those addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs.

“Gangs are increasingly pushing dangerous drugs into our communities and we are committed to stopping them, locking them up and seizing their ill-gotten gains,” Mrs Bennett says.

“National will redouble its efforts to stop drugs getting into the country, stamp out meth labs and disrupt the supply networks as part of a refreshed Methamphetamine Action Plan.

“We’ll also increase Police powers to stop gang members from committing crimes in the first place, backing up our investment in more Police officers and smarter policing and our tougher sentencing of offenders.”

A new National Government will spend $40 million over four years on drug treatment and education services including:

  • 1500 additional in patient drug treatment places
  • Community based treatment, prevention and education services provided by NGOs and Iwi

National will also invest $42 million over four years on a crackdown on gangs and the supply of serious drugs by:

  • Giving Police new power to search the cars and houses of the most serious criminal gang members at any time to ensure they don’t have firearms through new Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs)
  • Doubling the number of drug dog teams and introducing them in domestic airports, ferries and mail centres to clamp down on trafficking
  • Increasing penalties for manufacturing and distributing synthetic cannabis from a maximum of two years imprisonment to eight years, but no changes to charges for possession
  • Imposing new obligations on gang members on a benefit so that if they can’t justify expensive assets, they can have their benefit cancelled or be declined a benefit
  • Introducing a new charge of ‘wilful contamination’ for people who contaminate rental properties
  • Introducing compulsory police vetting for anyone working at ports, mail centres or airport baggage centres (this includes contractors)

“These measures come on top of the $503 million announced earlier this year for 1125 more Police Staff, which included 80 police to target organised crime and drugs.

“Serious drugs like methamphetamine and the gangs who peddle them are a scourge on our society,” Mrs Bennett says.

“These drug dealers are destroying lives for profit and greed and these drugs have no place in our country.

“We need to help those that are already addicted and find ways of stopping new victims of this drug and the gangs who peddle them.

“Our investment in strengthening our borders will also help reduce harm because we know the most effective way to tackle this problem is to stop drugs reaching our shores in the first place.

“National is the party of law and order – we take the safety of all New Zealanders seriously. Police’s mission is for New Zealand to be the safest country in the world, and National wholeheartedly supports this goal,” Mrs Bennett says.

The $82 million over four years will be made up of $40 million from the proceeds of crime and $42 million of new funding.

Unequal human rights

Should prisoners have reduced human rights? Minister of Police Paula Bennett seems to think some should be treated differently

RNZ: Serious criminals ‘have fewer human rights’ – National

Serious criminals should have fewer human rights than others, according to the National Party’s police spokesperson Paula Bennett.

Ms Bennett and the party’s leader Bill English have announced National’s policy to crack down on gangs and the supply and manufacture of methamphetamine.

The plan would give police the power to search the cars and houses of the most serious criminal gang members, at any time, for firearms through the use of new prohibition orders, which would be given at the discretion of police.

I have two serious concerns so far. If they want to search cars and houses that surely means suspected criminals, or alleged criminals.

And ‘discretion of police’ sounds warning bells. Surely there should be some checks on what the police can do, like needing to obtain warrants.

Ms Bennett said that would probably breach the human rights of those gang members.

That’s a worrying admission.

“We just feel that there are some gang members that are creating more harm and continuing to.

“Some have fewer human rights than others when they are creating a string of victims behind them … there is a different standard.”

Mr English said he was comfortable with the policy.

“We’re comfortable that this is a tool which will enable the front line of our police to deal more effectively with the structure of the distribution of meth and the dangers of firearms.

“It will go right through the legislative process, so of course this will be argued.”

Without seeing details I’m quite uncomfortable with this.

National’s plan would invest $42 million over four years to fund a crackdown on gangs and the supply of serious drugs.

Aside from new police powers, it would double the number of drug dog teams and introduce them in domestic airports, ferries and mail centres to clamp down on trafficking. Penalties for manufacturing and distributing synthetic cannabis would be increased from a maximum of two years’ imprisonment to eight years, but no changes to charges for possession.

Gang members on a benefit would also have to justify expensive assets worth more than $10,000, otherwise their benefit could be cancelled or be declined.

Ms Bennett said serious drugs like methamphetamine and the gangs who peddle them were a scourge on society.

“These drug dealers are destroying lives for profit and greed and these drugs have no place in our country.”

I agree that drug pushing and dealing is abhorrent and a serious problem, but as important as it is to try to combat this more effectively it is also important to have a High standard of human rights, and also adequate controls on police investigations and enforcement.

What if the Police search someone’s car or house and find no drugs or firearms? Too bad, as long as they look a bit like criminals?

UPDATE: The Spinof – Mask off: National decides gang members have “fewer human rights”

If you can – and this is clearly impossible – detach yourself from its horror, the policy is fascinating as a perfect view into the debates which roil inside the National party. It perfectly encapsulates the two impulses it has contained, in announcing 1500 new drug treatment places (seems good, seems like the modern, friendly, Bill English wing) while also promising to just wander into the homes of gang members, without a warrant, just because.

Its launch at a West Auckland drug treatment facility captures the squirming dichotomy perfectly. It is meant to scream ‘we care’ to the mainstream on the 6pm news, while the “fewer human rights” grab will play on ZB tomorrow, a bone for the tough-on-crime crowd to gnaw on.

What we’re really seeing is the party under sustained pressure for the first time in nine years…

Hence this policy, one which seems ripped from the ‘70s headlines, asserting that certain types of New Zealanders are fundamentally less human than others. It’s the National party of old’s coffin lid creaking open, a zombie back out to fight an election in 2017. We’ll find out what Bill English really thinks about it when he records his episode of the 9th Floor. Unless this somewhat grotesque new strategy gains traction, that moment won’t be far off.

I think this policy has the potential to stuff any chance National has of reversing Labour’s positive momentum. It may appeal to Natikonal’s base and some further to the right with few other voting options, but it is going to struggle with the swing voters who have been veering towards Labour.

Gang granddads versus Government

A very interesting feature from RNZ: Fighting for a different future

As an older generation of gang members try to lead their families in a different direction, they face opposition from politicians and resistance from within their own ranks. Aaron Smale spoke to them about their aspirations and struggles.

Some older gang members are trying to find better ways for their mokopuna, and putting whanau ahead of the gangs that had been their only family. The wisdom of years after some difficult experiences is coming into play.

It’s a very interesting feature and gives a better understanding of why gangs happened in the first place (state care abuse, again), what kept them together and why breaking them up may not be the best approach.

I hope some of our politicians read it, especially the Ministers and spokespeople of Police, Corrections and ‘Vulnerable Children’.

No one’s denying that some gang members have done some very bad things that they themselves must take responsibility for. But it helps to understand gangs’ antisocial attitude if you know that many of their members went through state institutions as children between the 1960s and 1980s.

Most of them say they learned violence and a hatred for authority in places like Epuni and Kohitere.

Epuni was in Lower Hutt -see Grooming criminals the downside of former Epuni Boys HomeAn engrossing new book about the home puts the case that the short term correctional facility, and 25 others like it around New Zealand… became grooming centres where too many of the perceived “little criminals” became “big criminals”  including some of the most feared individuals still behind bars in 2011.

They talk of lags, incarceration, solitary (sometimes for weeks and even months) and the bash as a normal part of life when they were 11, 12, 13. It also caused ruptures with their families, who weren’t particularly bad or violent, that led them to congregate with those with a similar experience.

This culture played out spectacularly over the 1970s and 80s and has lingered on around the fringes since.

Dion Waikato’s father and grandfather were shearers in Hawke’s Bay. He was already working in the woolsheds by the time he was 13 and had no interest in school. Because of his refusal to attend, Social Welfare put him in a foster home, and when he ran away from that, he was sent to Epuni – where he got an education of a different kind.

“At Epuni Boys I was 13 and there was 15-year-olds in there. They ran the place. Shit hit the fan for a little bit. I’d have a black eye, normal kids’ stuff, you know.  Black eye, or scratches on the nose. I tried proving a point but I was never getting anywhere anyway. I was only a little kid compared to the big kids. I tolerated it.  But every time I had to do something about it, I’d also get punished for it as well and end up in solitary.

“It was frightening. I’d never experienced anything like that before. It was the first time I’d been incarcerated. I used to either want to run away or do something. Self-harm. But I just stayed hard until one day I got over the bullying from the older boys. I had to stay there and do my lag there.”

You had to be something in there, Waikato says. If you were nothing, it was worse on you. So those six months at Epuni set his life on a course into the Mongrel Mob and prison.

“I had a loving family, I just used to go against their wishes. They wanted better things for me but I wanted to do what I had already set out to do. I had learnt a lot in Epuni so when I got home I already had tattoos of bulldogs by the time I was 14. I started prospecting when I was 15.

Here’s a similar story about Kohitere, near Levin – see Smashed by the state: The kids from Kohitere – Politicians are fond of calling for gangs to be smashed, but many gang members have already been smashed by the state – when they were children.

“All I can remember is that my older brother, Raymond, was in the [Lookout Point Boys Home] at the time. He’d run away and showed up at home. One of the staff members came over and got him. They actually gave him a hiding at the same time. When I seen it, I just wanted to be with him. I don’t know why. It might have been the effect of watching somebody else beating him up.

“Home wasn’t bad. My mum and my dad worked. I think they looked after us reasonably well. For me I just wanted to be with my brother. That’s how I ended up being in the boys homes, I just kept running away so I could.

“Going through the boys’ homes and that, we were accustomed to violence. It was either perpetrated on us, or we perpetrated it on someone else.

“I took a lot of bashings in there from staff. We used to run away all the time and they’d put us in the secure block, but before they put us in the secure block they used to bash us. It became normal for us. So we used to run away more. In the end we ended up in Levin, in Kohitere. I think I spent 10 months there.”

And thing’ got worse from there.

Epere says the violence he learned in Kohitere and the dislocation of being removed from his family meant he gravitated towards Black Power at an early age. His criminal history started young.

“Once you get separated from everything, you start looking for something. Something to connect to, something to belong to. I think that’s how this all came about, just personally for myself. Because of the violence, and the gangs were violent at that time, the drugs, I went all through that.

“It only got worse after Kohitere. After Kohitere they had CT, Correctional Training. That was my next step. Right through the 80s, the 90s, there wasn’t a year that I wasn’t in prison. From about ’83 to about 2000, there wasn’t a year. I’ve only just stopped going to prison since 2008. I’ve probably done 25 years all up in jail, in the jail system.

“I must have racked up more than 20 assaults by the time I was about 16. They range up to about 30 assaults that I got on my rap sheet. When I was a lot younger there were drinking ones too. Getting caught in the pubs. As I got older the violence got more serious. They weren’t just assault they were GBHs (grievous bodily harm), things like that. The violence just got worser.”

And now:

Epere says those in charge of the system need to take responsibility and acknowledge the damage that was done and the effect it continues to have on people’s lives.

“I would like them to take responsibility for their actions. I would like to ask politicians to take responsibility because we’re a by-product of their system. That’s what they need to take responsibility for, is their actions in the whole thing. We took responsibility for our actions when we used to beat people up we went to jail for it. That’s what I’d like to say to them. Where’s your responsibility in it? Or is it sweep it under the carpet like everything else.”

Another very good reason for an inquiry into state care abuse and failures. The State needs to take responsibility first, and then it can do something to repair some of the long lasting inter-generational damage it caused.

“It was being a part of something. You’ve already been separated from your family. I wanted to be separated from them just to be with my brother, but in the end I actually separated from my parents. After I followed my oldest brother the rest followed me and went and did exactly the same thing. We all went to jail, we all went through the same processes. There’s a lot of people out there, from our generation, from about 45 upwards, that have gone through the same thing. People wonder why we’re like this.”

“I’ll never leave what they call the gang. For me it’s my iwi, it’s my hapu. I say that because where was my iwi and my hapu when I was growing up?”

So change within gangs may be a better approach than trying to wrench them from families again.

Epere is determined to not pass on the legacy of Kohitere to his children.

“For me now it’s about undoing what I learnt. That’s a personal thing for myself to make me a better person. I’m 50 now, I’ve got a partner, I’ve had seven kids, I’ve got 18 grandchildren. It’s not about me now, it’s about what I leave behind. If I carry on with all the old stuff I used to do then I’m not going to leave them much. I’m at the stage where I’m trying to leave them something better than what I had, I don’t want them going down the path I had. Because it only leads to violence and destruction.”

But the Government still aids and abets violence and social discord by not addressing problems caused by the State and perpetuated by the State.

Back to the RNZ feature:

The government has ignored the role of state welfare institutions in forming gangs, even though Judge Carolyn Henwood noted strong evidence that this was where they started. Everyone from MSD minister Anne Tolley to John Key and now Bill English has continually downplayed and minimised the effects of state abuse. Yet it is a common factor in the life experience of so many gang members, particularly those in Māori gangs.

There’s a sharp disconnect between how the gangs see their lives and what they want, and the approach taken by the government. For a start, the government has never publicly acknowledged the role the state had in instilling violence in the individuals and families it now sees as so problematic.

Its gang policy – several years in the making – is essentially a hardening of well-worn, decades-old political rhetoric that has only fostered a booming prison population. And the escalating taxpayer bill that goes with it.

The government appears to be fixated on “exit” from gangs, but for many members a gang is the only family they have known.

“It goes further than just the colours,” says Hawke’s Bay Black Power member Mane Adams. “It’s my whanau. Some of the brotherhood haven’t got real whanau, and this is it. What they’ve lived is what it is. The government needs to understand, no matter how much they want to push, they’ve seen it overseas the suppression stuff that they’re putting upon us, we’re still there. We ain’t going nowhere. We just have to adapt to the changes and we are. And we’re going to. We have to. Simple as that.”

“Smash the gangs” may be a populist vote attracting approach for politicians, but understanding how they occurred in the first place, what they mean to gang members now and then redressing some serious State wrongs could be much more effective in getting some positive results, not just for those who were abused and set on bad paths by the state, but particular for their whanau and mokopuna.

In 2010, when Judith Collins (one of the main architects of the gang policy) addressed a police leadership conference as Police Minister, she said: “As minister, I have a policy of not engaging with gangs. I won’t even knowingly meet with anyone who I know to be a gang member.”

Sounds tough. Trying to impose ‘solutions’ on people you won’t even meet and try to understand may appease populists but will struggle to solve anything.

Meanwhile, the positive initiatives the gangs themselves are taking get minimal if any support.  The Notorious chapter approached government agencies and iwi to ask for help for their members in getting off P. None were interested. In the end it approached the Salvation Army, which put together a rehab programme, as mentioned earlier.

So the State is still failing them. Sad.

Harry Tam has been around not only in gang circles but also in government ones.

He sees the senior gang members as being at the heart of any solutions but believes politicians need to drop the inflammatory soundbites and takes issues like education, poverty and housing seriously. He says those are the real drivers of crime, not gangs per se.

“The existence of indigenous gangs in New Zealand, there’s a long history of deprivation. Some will argue it goes back to colonisation, some will argue it was the assimilation process and policies. It’s probably all those things. One thing that has been fairly clear is that whole urban drift phenomenon of post-war has contributed significantly to people belonging to these groups.

“The gangs in this country, particularly the indigenous ethnic gangs, have evolved from young people that weren’t well educated. I would lay this squarely on the welfare homes and people being taken away from families.”

Tam says that generation had no one to guide them once they came out of the state institutions, but they are now in a position to offer some hard-earned experience to both their own associates and government agencies.

While Tam says older gang members are taking their responsibilities as leaders seriously in trying to turn their families and younger members down a different track, he believes politicians would do well to try a different approach from the one that has failed so spectacularly for decades.

If gangs are expected to change their thinking and behaviour, it might be time for politicians to do the same.

I hope some politicians listen and learn. Like:

Hon Paula Bennett, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Police
Amy Adams, Minister of Justice, Minister Responsible for Social Investment
Hon Anne Tolley, Minister for Social Development, Minister for Children
Louise Upston, Minister of Corrections

Interesting that they are all female Ministers. They may be able to see things from a different perspective to their mostly male predecessors.