2 Dec 2020

Northland mayor says recent gun attacks legacy of neglect and deprivation

7:34 pm on 2 December 2020

A trend of drug-related gun violence against police cannot be addressed without also confronting decades of social neglect in Northland, one of its mayors says.

Police cordon on Avoca Rd after shooting in Northland

The scene of an incident yesterday, were a wanted man and police dog were shot. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Mayor of Kaipara District Council, Jason Smith, told Morning Report a recent spate of gun attacks against police officers across Northland was a worrying development that ultimately stemmed from high levels of socio-economic deprivation and a historical failure to tackle it.

A shoot-out with police near Dargaville yesterday morning was the fourth gun-related incident in the area in less than five weeks.

A man, who was wanted on firearms and cannabis charges, was rushed to hospital after being shot three times by police in the rural settlement of Tangowahine, near Dargaville. He had shot a police dog while being pursued.

Both the man and the dog are in a stable condition.

"This is a real concern and what I would say right here is a trend, a new moment that seems to be emerging of gun violence in our community," Smith said.

People in the community were concerned with the prevalence of drugs in the region, he added.

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Photo: Supplied

"That's one of the key factors that we have going on and there are these other broader societal shifts happening.

"The community here in Kaipara and across Northland... and quite simply there are real, real challenges as there are more drugs and society shifts."

Smith said decades of social neglect by central government and high levels of socio-economic deprivation had contributed greatly to a culture of drug use and now a rise in gun violence. People in the rural region were struggling with lack of basic services and opportunity.

He said incidents like yesterday's shooting couldn't be addressed fully without intervention in addressing wider societal issues in Northland.

"When you look across the key measures, including the quality of the roads in the north, electricity supply, housing, unemployment, welfare, we keep seeing Northland coming through and what I would say is we have a real challenge for the lawmakers in Wellington about the neglect of Northland."

Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said she hoped the recent incidents didn't amount to a trend, but that these were worrying.

110314. Photo supplied Whangarei's new mayor Sheryl Mai

110314. Photo supplied Whangarei's new mayor Sheryl Mai Photo: supplied

"Sometimes things can cluster and I do hope this is the last incident we have to face in our region. It is obviously a concern for people when you get four in a row in a very short space of time."

Mai agreed with Smith that drugs were a factor, but that this was reassuring to the community as it suggested ordinary people weren't at direct risk from the violence.

"That connection between drugs and firearms offences is definitely a concern and I think that's where we need to put additional resources in."

She said she felt for police and their families, who were at the frontline and having to respond to potentially violent call-outs.

"We want to ensure that they are supported in every way that can."

Mai said what was needed now was both and health and police response to address the issue.

Vet optimistic

The police dog suffered critical injuries to the jaw and has been undergoing further assessments by veterinarians at Unitec in Mt Albert today.

Vet Alastair Coomer said initial treatment of the dog was crucial to its survival.

"He received outstanding first aid from his handler. He then got outstanding veterinary care locally up north and then the transport down here helped massively to get him here in good shape and then we've just continued along that path."

Dr Coomer said the dog may now fully recover after rallying hard from a position of near death.

Police said they were unable to disclose the dog's name due to privacy reasons.

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