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.

Child abuse a far worse problem than terrorism

If people and Governments put as much effort into reducing the risks of child abuse as they do terrorism perhaps we would make some real progress in dealing with one of New Zealand’s biggest actual problems.

It’s a lot more difficult screening parents in their homes than it is screening passengers before boarding an aircraft.

Jarrod Gilbert: We really must stop this cycle of child abuse

James Whakaruru’s misery ended when he was killed in 1999. He had endured four years of life and that was all he could take. He was hit with a small hammer, a jug cord and a vacuum cleaner hose. During one beating his mind was so confused he stared blankly ahead. His tormentor responded by poking him in the eyes. It was a stomping that eventually switched out his little light. It was a case that even the Mongrel Mob condemned, calling the cruelty “amongst the lowest of any act”.

An inquiry by the Commissioner for Children found a number of failings by state agencies, which were all too aware of the boy’s troubled existence. The Commissioner said James became a hero because changes made to Government agencies would save lives in the future. Yet such horrors have continued.

My colleague Greg Newbold has found that on average nine children (under 15) have been killed as a result of maltreatment since 1992 and the rate has not abated in recent years. In 2015, there were 14 such deaths, one of which was three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri, or baby Moko as we knew him when he gained posthumous celebrity.

For every child killed there are dozens who live wretched existences and from this cohort of unfortunates will come the next generation of abusers. Solving the problems of today, then, is not just a moral imperative but is also about producing a positive ripple effect.

We have heard of a number of horrifying abuses of children, but they are just the worst. Most of the children being scarred for life suffer in private.

This cycle of abuse is well known, yet state spending on the problem is poorly aligned to it, and our targeting of the problem is reactionary and punitive rather than proactive and preventative.

Of the $1.4 billion we spend on family and sexual violence annually, less than 10 per cent is spent on interventions, of which just 1.5 per cent is spent on primary prevention. The morality of that is questionable, the economics even more so.

The Government say they are investigating ways of using money more effectively to reduce social and criminal problems.

Not only must things be approached differently but there needs to be greater urgency in our thinking. It’s perhaps trite to say, but if nine New Zealanders were killed every year in acts of terrorism politicians would never stop talking about it and it would be priority number one.

In an election year, that’s exactly where this issue should be.

Violence, especially violence against children, is one of the most serious problems we have in New Zealand. It has widespread immediate and long term effects and is very costly to the state – on top of costing many people a decent quality of life.

Why isn’t it a top election issue? Why aren’t parties making it a bottom line when they posture over coalition deals?

Why don’t ‘the people’ demand more from our Government and our politicians?

It’s something we must do more about, but we seem more concerned about things beyond our control, like Trump and Brexit and Islam that are low risk to us.

There are children in our communities at high risk now. Shouldn’t we me more outraged and more demanding of action?


Criticism of ACT prison policy

ACT has succeeded in attracting attention to the prison policy they announced at their conference in the weekend – see ACT: reduced prison sentence for education – with critics claiming flaws.

RNZ: Flaws seen in ACT’s new prison literacy policy

The ACT Party’s new policy aimed at reducing prisoners’ sentences does not match up with its previous hard-line policies, the Labour Party says.

Labour’s corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said the policy had merit on the surface because too many people were being imprisoned.

But he said the ACT Party also introduced the three-strikes policy, which was about locking people up.

“It’s sort of counter-intuitive for them to be saying ‘well let’s reduce prison sentences’ but again without any real detail around the policy it’s really hard to measure whether this policy is actually going to make a difference or not.”

It’s not counter-intuitive. Davis should read David Seymour’s speech and read the policy explanation before criticising it.

It’s not difficult to understand that it’s possible to be tough on the worst recidivist criminals while also trying to improve the non-criminal prospects of first time and petty criminals.

Author and researcher Jarrod Gilbert said the idea of cutting prison sentences should be applauded, but the hard-line three-strikes policy fuelled high incarceration rates.

“We’ve got to balance prison policy between a punitive approach which punishes people for what they do wrong but also assists those that require help to change their lives and obviously that’s not just in the individual’s benefit to change but in wider society’s benefit, not only through cost but through reducing victims of crime.”

Gilbert understands that it’s possible to be both punitive and rehabilitate.

Kim Workman, a former head of Corrections who is a research associate at Victoria University’s Institute of Criminology, said any effort to teach literacy and numeracy to prisoners should be supported.

But he said the policy would be unfair on prisoners who can’t join in lessons.

An odd comment. You shouldn’t try and help some prisoners learn to read and write because some can already read and write and some others are too sick to learn?

“Twenty percent of the prisoners for a start, have brain and head injuries and are incapable of taking part in those programmes, 40 percent have mental health issues. So you’re really only looking at a small proportion of the prison community who are able to leave the prison early.”

I don’t believe that all 20% of prisoners with head injuries can’t be helped by education.

Nor all of the 40% with mental health problems. In fact self esteem is a factor in some mental health problems, so better education could help them overcome mental health problems.

But even if only the remaining 40% can be taught to read and write, or even just a half or a quarter of them, that must surely be a very good achievement.

Kelvin Davis said the programmes already running in prisons needed more funding.

Jarrod Gilbert said support for those coming out of prison was urgently needed to help reduce recidivism.

Funding and resources are crucial if ACT’s policy is to succeed.

Mr Seymour said the rehabilitation of prisoners was crucial and the policy would be part of any coalition arrangement, if ACT were in a position to be part of the government after September’s general election.

He said he had spoken with the Prime Minister about the policy and Bill English was open to the idea.

This policy is a good candidate for consideration as a social investment. Putting more money and resources into rehabilitation and education should fairly quickly save costs through reducing the number of people in prison.

Should climate denial be a crime?

Dr Jarrod Gilbert provocatively at NZ Herald: Why climate denial should be a criminal offence:

There is no greater crime being perpetuated on future generations than that committed by those who deny climate change. The scientific consensus is so overwhelming that to argue against it is to perpetuate a dangerous fraud. Denial has become a yardstick by which intelligence can be tested.

The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool.

I think this is over the top, perhaps deliberately.

Scepticism with any science, especially one as complex as climate science, is healthy. More than that, scepticism is essential in science.

Likening climate science scepticism to denial and mindlessness is foolish.

Since the 1960s, it has been known that heat-trapping gasses were increasing in the earth’s atmosphere, but no one knew to what effect. In 1979, a study found “no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible”. Since then scientists have been seeking to prove it, and the results are in.

Scientists have been researching climate in many ways and the results keep coming in. While most results point strongly towards human influenced climate change things are far from conclusive or final.

As this recent article illustrates: Antarctic is cooling, but climate skeptics aren’t going to be happy.

Back to Gilbert:

One way in which everyday crime can be discouraged is to ensure that “capable guardians” are around to deter criminal activity. When it comes to climate change, the capable guardians are educated members of the public who counteract the deniers.

There may be differing opinions on what policies to pursue, but those who deny that climate change exists ought be shouted down like the charlatans that they are. Or better yet, looked upon with pitiful contempt and completely ignored.

There is no room to sit on the fence and say, “I don’t know if it’s true”. Ignorance of the law excuses no one – and so it is with the laws of science.

It’s sad to see Gilbert resorting to this line of attack. It’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind about climate change – it’s more likely to entrench views because it is so obviously over the top.

There are serious issues facing New Zealand and the world regarding climate change. We have to consider possible effects of continued warming and ongoing scientific research is essential to monitor and to learn.

Suggesting scepticism is criminal and denigrating differing views is unhelpful and unscientific.

Jarrod Gilbert overplays “Dirty Politics’

In an ongoing issue about erroneous gang statistics sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert plays the ‘Dirty Politics’ card, but some of his implications are contradicted by the article he refers to at NZ Herald.

He recently posted Inflated gang figures corrected in Cabinet – but not in public.

The Herald’s David Fisher has today revealed that the grossly inflated gang data used by then Police and Corrections Minister, Anne Tolley,  have now been corrected –  behind closed cabinet doors.

Among a raft of others, the Minister said that 4000 gang members were responsible for 34 percent of all class A and B drug offences, when in reality the figure was 4 percent. The homicide related charges cited by the Minister were 25 percent, itself an inflated figure, but using a consistent data set, that figure was actually zero.

So far fair enough comment. But then he goes ‘Dirty’.

Despite this, the government has not corrected the figures publicly, which they sought to defend pre election via a right wing blogger. 

David Fisher’s work is proof this is not the case. He chipped away until the truth was revealed. It’s his second story on this issue. He first reported the erroneous data and uncovered collusion between the Minister’s office and Right Wing blogger David Farrar, who was then seeking to defend the inflated data. Now Fisher has gained Cabinet papers showing that the numbers have been retracted.

To me it is surprising that more journalists haven’t dug around like this in relation to the issues raised in Dirty Politics, after all there are names to be made. 

Fisher’s article on 25 September showed that police data was not clear.

A police spokesman said in the information supplied to the minister it was not clear that people other than gang members were responsible for the crimes.

He said the crimes were also committed by family of gang members, people charged with crimes which also included gang members and others with an “identified connection” to gang members.

The minister’s office refused comment on whether the figures in the press release were wrong but said police “should have been clearer”.

But also in that article Gilbert was claiming ‘Dirty Politics’.

It’s all Dirty Politics – even after the election.

That’s the verdict of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, who pointed out statistics errors used by the Minister of Police Anne Tolley when launching a new gang policy.

At the time, National Party pollster and Kiwiblog owner David Farrar said he had “seen the actual stats the Minister is referring to” and Dr Gilbert was wrong.

What followed was an online argument which Dr Gilbert says derailed his attempt to point out inaccurate figures. “The Minister was forgotten, I was now the one trying to mislead the people. I was being discredited by mischief and fiction, not by facts and reasoned argument.”

He said it was his own experience of Dirty Politics, pointing to the book which alleged the National Party used bloggers including Farrar to attack those which criticised it.

Farrar blogged several times on this, first in Gangs and crime on 6 August.

Gilbert is wrong when he says the specific offences don’t match published data. As an academic, I am surprised he has not discovered the website run by Stats NZ.

He seems to disbelieve that somewhere between 1,620 and 4,000 gang members (some of those in jail will have been out during the year) could commit:

  • 25% of aggravated robberies and robberies
  • 36% of kidnapping and abductions
  • 26% of grievous assaults
  • 34% of class A and B drug offences

UPDATE: I have been sent the actual stats the Minister was relying on, which are for the first quarter of 2014. They are:

  • Class A/B drug offences total 218 out of 649
  • Kidnapping and abduction 16 out of 44
  • Aggravated robbery/robbery 72 out of 284
  • Grievous assault 130 out of 506

I look forward to the Herald covering the Jarrod Gilbert eating his carrots.

Gilbert refers to this as a “Dirty Politics’ attack, but Farrar was using information he believed to be correct and was challenging Gilbert’s claims – hardly a dirty attack.

Farrar followed up two days later with Dr Gilbert now concedes gangs are responsible for the proportions cited.

Now sadly Dr Gilbert won’t accept he was wrong, but is now trying to argue that there is a difference between gang associates and gang members. So he is not at all disputing that are responsible for 25% to 36% of kidnappings, robberies, grievous assaults and serious drug offences. He is now just saying that the crime figures may include associates, not just gang menbers:

I spend a lot of time working in prisons and I spend a lot of time with gangs. The prisons are not so full of gang members and not a single gang I know has anywhere remotely close to half of its members inside.

Is Dr Gilbert Saying the Corrections Department is lying when it says 28% of the prison population are gang members? They supplied the data, and I see no reason why they would make it up.

What the 28 percent prison number represents is gang members as well as gang associates in prison.

So it is a technical argument over definitions. I don’t care what you call them.

A few years back The Police Association said gangs and associates numbered 60,000.

The Police Association are not an official source. The Police are. They say there are 4,000 gang members. I don’t know if they includes associates in that. I presume Police and Corrections are using the same definition.

This sounds like Farrar is using known information to dispute claims and debate with Gilbert. It turns out some of the information was wrong but Gilbert provides no proof the Government or Farrar knew it was wrong.

On 24 September Farrar concedes Jarrod was right.

I’ve just been told that the Corrections Department figures do include associates and family – something they did not make clear at the time.

So Dr Gilbert was quite right that the Minister was not comparing apples and applies, as one figure included associates, and one did not.

UPDATE: of course I apologise for doubting when he says Police and Corrections were using definitions of gang members. They were!

Farrar followed up on 10 October with Is disputing data dirty politics?

is tweeting that he has an OIA showing I asked for information to attack him. This is not true. I asked for information to dispute his data, and he seems unable to see the difference. This is the legacy of the Hager book, that people now call anything they disagree with as Dirty Politics. In fact the record will show I have never attacked Dri Gilbert or called him names, while he in fact has called me a range of names of which quisling is one of the politer.

However I can understand he is upset because at the end of the day he was right in the assertion he was making, and I was wrong to be dismissive of it. I get things wrong sometimes.

In my experience Ministers tend to be pretty careful about using correct figures, and the nature of Dr Gilbert’s promise to eat carrots attracted my attention, so I had a look at the data under dispute.

I should point out that no one suggested to me to write my blog post. I didn’t talk to anyone before I wrote it. I saw Dr Gilbert’s post, and thought that the number of crimes in those categories made it very possible gang members were responsible for the proportions quoted.

He quotes his original blog post claims.

So this was me responding to a post on data, with data. How this is dirty politics I don’t know. After I did the blog post, a staffer from the Minister’s office e-mailed me and said:

Hi David – I have a breakdown which backs up the stats. Let me know if you want them.

Again, nothing extraordinary. In fact sensible pro-active work. I understand the data was also provided to Radio NZ. I did not ask for the data, it was offered to me.

So I made it very clear I had been sent the stats, and implicitly of course from her office.  Nothing secret.

Farrar provides more details and concludes:

While I think my second blog post on the topic was not something I’m proud of, I reject that I was seeking to damage or attack Jarrod. My focus was on the data. It should be apparent from my blog posts that I blog on data all the time. What was meant to be a fairly friendly exchange on offending stats, become more than that. I accept my responsibility for that, but it was never my intent to have Jarrod feel slighted. I would point out again that I have never resorted to name calling, and while I appreciate that some of the comments about Jarrod by some of the commenters here were not pleasant, the same goes for comments on Jarrod’s blog about me.

Again I repeat my apology to Jarrod, but at the same time I reject his assertion that I was conspiring to attack him.My aim was to attack his data and arguments, not him.  Regardless I will in future tread more carefully.

Gilbert will have almost certainly read all of this, but his latest post still tries to claim Ministerial-blogger collusion and ‘Dirty Politics.

Fisher’s latest article Ministers acted on inaccurate gang data repeats that wrong information  was provided.

Cabinet signed off tough new measures to tackle gangs on the basis of inaccurate information which over-estimated the scale of the crime problem.

The briefing paper told ministers 4000 gang members alone were responsible for a huge number of drug and violence crimes, including murders.

The release of the document through the Official Information Act followed the earlier discovery the wrong information had been used in a press release to justify the policy.

Cabinet ministers were also given the wrong information.

The information, which appeared to have been provided by police to the minister’s office, went before Cabinet in June before the August announcement.

He also quotes Gilbert:

Sociologist and gang researcher Dr Jarrod Gilbert outed then Police Minister Anne Tolley over the inaccurate press release and said it was “absurd” the wrong information had also gone to Cabinet. “This was an error of epic proportions. The problem by comparison is almost insignificant.”

Gilbert acknowledges the wrong information had gone to Cabinet and was used in the press release that led to his spat with Farrar.

But he continues to play the ‘Dirty Politics card. He has just posted “which they sought to defend pre election via a right wing blogger”  but provides no facts to back up his accusation and Farrar has strongly denied that’s how it happened.

To me it is surprising that more journalists haven’t dug around like this in relation to the issues raised in Dirty Politics, after all there are names to be made.

Who is doing dirty politics? Gilbert is making assertions with no evidence – in fact the evidence all points to incorrect data being provided and policies and arguments relying on it were made on that.

At the end of his post Gilbert says “Two further questions still remain, though.”

Why is it good enough for the numbers to be corrected behind the private doors of Cabinet but not in public?

Farrar has publicly corrected the numbers. Why is it good enough to claim that a Minister ‘colluded’ with Farrar to promote erroneous data but then ignore his correction?

And, given Cabinet documents reveal that the incorrect data were not just used to justify the government’s policy but were the very basis for creating it, should the policy be reevaluated now the problem is so vastly different to what the government was originally led to believe? 

That is a very good question. Unfortunately it is tacked on to the end of an attack post and could easily be ignored.

It turns out that Gilbert was right about the wrong data.

But his continued attacks on ‘Right Wing blogger David Farrar’ and his claims of being a victim of ‘Dirty Politics’ substantially muddies the important parts of this issue.