27 Nov 2019

National's proposed 'Strike Force Raptor' unit likened to 18th century ideas

10:13 am on 27 November 2019

National's proposals have been panned as a leap back to 18th-century ideas of punishment.

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National Party leader Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

It has released its latest discussion document - law and order - positioning the party as "tough on crime" and floating a suite of policies with the end goal of eliminating gangs.

That includes banning gang patches, creating an elite police team to target gangs, increasing penalties for youth offenders, and requiring prisoners to have NCEA Level 2 numeracy and literacy to be eligible for parole.

The proposed policies have raised concerns that vulnerable groups will be further marginalised, but some victims' advocates are welcoming the proposals saying they would put victims at the centre of the justice system.

National leader Simon Bridges wants to take a cue from New South Wales police - establishing a taskforce modelled on their "Strike Force Raptor", a unit dedicated to cracking down on gang members for everything from parking fines to punch-ups and liquor licence breaches.

"The government I lead will harass and disrupt gangs every single day I am prime minister," Mr Bridges said .

Strike Force Raptor had been "devastatingly successful", he said, pointing to an increase in drug busts and arrests.

However, JustSpeak director Tania Sawicki Mead said that was based on an outdated idea of punishment that ignored the evidence and underlying issues.

Gang membership was being fuelled by young people who were being sucked in and spat out by the justice system, she said.

"It's easier to find and blame a scapegoat for complex social problems than it is to take responsibility for the government's role in creating and perpetuating the problems."

Greg Coombes, a lawyer in Grafton, New South Wales, who represents motorcycle gang members, told Morning Report the charges Strike Force Raptor had so far come up with weren't related to gang activity.

"A couple of examples - they have raided houses and haven't found anything in the houses and have breached them for dogs not being properly tied up in the back yard and things like that.

"I know one member had his car ripped to shreds - $7000 of damage to it where they cut through the seats and door linings - looking for, I can only imagine - drugs. They found absolutely nothing and left him with the bill ... the perception I have got is they come in looking for activity, the typical what you would see in the movies bikie activity, and they simply come up with nothing."

However, Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Jess McVicar said gangs inflicted terrible damage, and welcomed a crackdown.

"We're often dealing with people who were just in their homes and they've been attacked out of the blue ... as much as people are trying to say at the moment that they're not violent, the cases that we have are absolutely horrendous."

Justice reform advocate and former National Party courts minister Chester Borrows said he could see both positives and negatives in the ideas.

He was also pleased there was a focus on speeding up the court process and putting victims at the heart of the justice system, but said it needed to be acknowledged the victims were sometimes the ones in the dock.

Mr Burrows said widening the 'clean slate' programme for young offenders was a good thing, but increasing the penalties for the most serious young offenders could have unintended consequences.

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