15 May 2024

Gang unit: Police Association 'disturbed' by lack of funding, staffing

8:41 am on 15 May 2024
Police Association president Chris Cahill speaks at a media conference on association members rejecting the government's pay offer.

Police Association president Chris Cahill Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The police union is "disturbed" the government's latest move to crack down on gangs does not seem to come with any extra cash or staff.

Police are setting up a new national gang unit, as well as district gang disruption teams, to get patched members off the streets and curb crime and intimidation.

That was likely to include a mix of new investment and other resources being moved around, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said.

But the announcement on Tuesday lacked detail, and the Police Association had not been consulted, its president Chris Cahill said.

"We are disturbed that this doesn't come with any evidence of increased funding and increased staffing.

"So it looks to us that you'll be asking officers to do more with less, and that's the concern we have."

There were more than 250 vacancies in the force, and Cahill worried that for every officer who moved to the gang unit, there would be one less on the front line.

"We don't have the resources, we know we can't meet the demand that's already out there, so for this to occur police are either going to have to get more money, get more staff, or stop doing other work."

The association wanted to understand what work could be dropped, along with proof that police would not have to do it, Cahill said.

"We want to see a lot more facts," he said.

Meanwhile, officers were still fighting for more pay, after they overwhelmingly rejected the government's latest offer.

Negotiations were moving to arbitration, and a hearing was set down for 26 and 27 June, Cahill confirmed.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins told Morning Report police were doing the work in Operation Colbalt units and "if the current government want to rebrand it, so be it".

"I think the proof will be in how much actual resource they put into it."

Hipkins said he couldn't see how banning gang patches would reduce gang crime.

"Removing gang patches might make them harder to see but it doesn't mean the criminal offending is going to change."

Iwi urges government to address the root cause of gang problems

The government's approach to gangs focused too heavily on law enforcement, and not enough on the underlying causes, Ngāti Kahungunu chair Bayden Barber said.

Barber has been meeting with Mongrel Mob and Black Power leaders following a shooting at a rugby match in Hastings last month, to discuss how to curb crime.

Establishing a gang unit sounded "militant", he said, and he was not confident it would work.

"My caution would be, yep, you want to put the heavy hand down [but] we know that isn't the complete solution.

"You've got to be doing the other stuff. [They've] brought in the stick, but the carrot needs to be there, you know, people need to have a desire to change their lives."

The problems in the community were deep seated, Barber said.

"Lack of education, lack of care as tamariki, no job, no training, and just a lack of aspiration.

"And along with that, a lack of connection to who they are as Māori, and iwi and hapū members."

The iwi was trying to play its part, but the government was not doing enough to solve those problems, Barber said.

Gang intimidation not a problem in Wairoa

The Hawke's Bay town of Wairoa is also home to Black Power and Mongrel Mob members - and Mayor Craig Little said the community was used to seeing them around.

He was not sure whether the national unit or district teams would reduce gang numbers or visibility, but intimidation was not a big problem, he said.

"Gang patches don't intimidate a lot of the local people.

"There's a bit of intimidation I guess, but it's mainly people coming from out of town who aren't familiar with gangs."

It was no secret gangs are responsible for a lot of the town's crime, but addressing underlying problems like drug use would be a better way to combat that, said Little.

Ōpōtiki needs more police officers - mayor

"Gangs are an issue in our town," Ōpōtiki mayor David Moore told Morning Report.

But there was also a shortage of police officers.

"We are probably 12 out of 15 short, and it hasn't been fully staffed since 2012, under our last National government."

"Officially" there was a 24-hour police station, but there hadn't been one for many years, he said.

"I do support new powers that they've been given, but really what I want to see is the police being supported, being paid a decent wage and getting the numbers they need to enforce these new rules."

There was a need for more police - "it's not just Ōpōtiki, it's every rural town, every provincial town", Moore said.

"You take away youth aid officers and community police officers, and you lose that connection between your community and the police."

Moore said banning gang patches would not affect gang members, "you're dreaming, I'm sorry, you just won't know which gang they belong to".

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