21 May 2019

Ōtara violence: 'What are you doing to keep our families safe?'

6:12 am on 21 May 2019

The Ōtara community is calling for a crackdown on crime after a fatal shooting in the South Auckland suburb on Friday afternoon.

Re violence including shootings

Residents were seeking answers to ease their worry over a spate of violence in Ōtara. Photo: RNZ / Brooke Jenner

A nearby school and a kindergarten went into lockdown after a man was shot dead on Piako Street nearly a month after another fatal shooting less than three kilometres away, on Darnell Crescent in Clover Park.

Hundreds of residents attended a hui, wanting to voice their safety concerns amid rising levels of gun violence in Ōtara.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff was joined by MP Jenny Salesa, local welfare groups and police for the hui.

But it took 90 minutes for the shootings to be mentioned, when angry members of the public started shouting questions to the panel of representatives.

"We've been here for almost two hours," one woman called out. "What are you doing to keep our families safe from what's gone on?

"You can't go on without answering me," she said.

Mr Goff said there have been more than a dozen fatal shootings in the wider area in the past year, and gangs and drugs were common links in a large number of them.

Re rising levels of gun violence

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff wants more police based in South Auckland and a greater focus on organised crime. Photo: RNZ / Brooke Jenner

Addressing the crowd's concerns, Mr Goff said the best solution was a crackdown in these two areas. "More police here, more people on the ground, more attention to organised crime, but working with the government," he said, "so that we can make sure our kids can be everything they want to be without getting patched up and without hurting other people."

He said, alongside this action, he was looking forward to the plans detailed in the wellbeing Budget.

Mr Goff said the police told him last month that organised crime was rife in South Auckland.

He later told RNZ that Police Minister Stuart Nash was working to get more officers into the area. "[He gave an] acknowledgement that this was a district that had been under-resourced," he said.

"But 180 new recruits were coming in and more recruits were coming into this district than any other, and that there will be a particular government focus and a police focus on dealing with organised crime."

Mr Goff praised the government's swift action in banning several semi-automatic guns and parts following the mosque attacks, but he said establishing a gun register would help track the stolen weapons used in gang-related shootings.

Police commander for Counties Manukau east Wendy Spiller said a large group of officers have returned to the area after two months helping teams in Christchurch.

Ms Spiller said the focus was now on prioritising gang and gun-related violence.

However, she told the audience the police could not patrol every street corner looking for firearms, and appealed to the community for their help.

"There's people in our community that actually know people with firearms in their roof or under their house," she said.

"We need people to help and inform us of those things and they can do it anonymously.

"We can't do it ourselves," Ms Spiller said.

Poasa Moala from Neighbourhood Support Ōtara said adding extra police was not a guarantee for a safer neighbourhood.

"You can't just say 'Okay, let's pour more police into this locality'. If you pour more police into this locality, it doesn't actually solve the underlying issue, which is economic prosperity," he said.

"It's a lateral approach to a issue we, as Otaraians, want to highlight to our decision-makers," Mr Moala said.

Local councillor Alf Filipaina said having people yelling their safety concerns to the panel was not what organisers had planned.

He said the meeting did little to resolve safety concerns, but it made all parties realise a collaborative approach was needed to address ongoing violence. That effort would aim to improve the quality of life for people, especially young people, in the suburb.

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