14 Jul 2022

Gang crackdown: National, Greens unimpressed, expert approves 'measured' approach

9:50 am on 14 July 2022

The government's gang crackdown has ignited opposition from both sides of the political spectrum but gained a thumbs-up from one of the country's foremost gang experts.

Gang violence, firearms, police

Photo: Marika Khabazi

Labour yesterday unveiled a stack of new tools targeting gangs, including tougher penalties for drive-by shootings and more search and seizure powers.

It comes after enormous pressure to bring gang crime under control following a spate of shootings around Auckland in recent months.

Sociologist and gangs researcher Jarrod Gilbert said while details were scant, the approach looked measured and, importantly, well-targeted.

"All in all, these are not 'gang-busting' provisions, but they may be effective tools to have in the toolkit."

Gilbert said the action was clearly prompted by political pressure, but he commended ministers for showing restraint in the face of the tough-on-crime brouhaha.

"One of the great concerns we've seen in the past around gang legislation is that it's brought in with great fanfare and has fallen remarkably flat.

"What I'm heartened by is that [ministers are not] saying this is going to be the panacea ... they're not attempting to overplay it for the sake of politics."

National has been leading the charge for tougher measures on gangs. It wants to ban patches and gang gatherings, and give police warrantless search powers.

Leader Christopher Luxon told reporters Labour's plan was mere tinkering.

"They frankly don't go far enough," Luxon said. "Nothing in this proposal will be scaring gangs at all."

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said she was disappointed to see Labour joining National in adopting "knee-jerk" gang policies.

"It seems like the kind of policy you adopt for the polls rather than to actually address the problem."

Ghahraman said expanding police powers of search and seizure would drive harassment of vulnerable communities.

"We know that Māori and Pasifika are many times more likely to be the subject of these searches and that is just going to get worse because of today's announcement."

Mānukau councillor Alf Filipaina said he wanted to see the government put more focus on preventing people from joining gangs in the first place.

Filipaina, a former police officer, said Labour should support youth workers all around the motu.

"If you're going to be serious about it, it's not only a one-prong attack," he said. "Stop always talking about it and put up some real funding."

Labour MP Chris Hipkins

Police minister Chris Hipkins. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Police Minister Chris Hipkins told Morning Report the new policy had not come as a result of the government cracking under political pressure.

The issue of policing gangs needed constant improvement, he said.

"What we want to do though is make sure that we're doing things that are actually going to make a difference, some of things that are proposed out there may sound tough on the surface but we know that it's tough talk that's all about marketing and PR.

"Tough talk is easy," he said.

Hipkins reiterated the policy was not the government's first foray into tackling gangs.

He said yesterday's announcement represented the first set of changes to the law to enable police to better target and disrupt gang activity.

The success of police's nationwide campaigns Operation Tauwhiro and Operation Colbalt showed they were actively working to reduce gang violence, Hipkins said.

"There are no overnight solutions here, this is going to be hard work for the police to get out there and to continue to disrupt gang activity.

"In reality tough talk from politicians isn't going to change that very stark reality ... our job is to make sure they've got the tools to do that."

The ban on large cash purchases would disrupt gangs' business activity and money laundering mechanisms, he said.

He said this change would be particularly disruptive to one of the gangs most effective money making avenues - drug dealing.

The police minister said while there was no measure to quantify the success of the new policy New Zealanders could expect to see police taking a more proactive approach to targeting gang activity.

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