Police Minister Chris Hipkins and National leader Christopher Luxon on gangs and police. Video / Mark Mitchell
News that the Tribesmen and Killer Beez gangs have agreed on a truce will naturally come as a relief to those who have been living in fear in the communities most affected by the
recent spate of shootings.
Each shot fired has affected far more people than those in the literal firing line. The impact has reached the top floor of the Beehive in Wellington where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this month removed Poto Williams from the Police portfolio. While National had called for Williams to go, her replacement does nothing by itself to fix the immediate threat of violence, or the long-term problem of gang recruitment.
It can only be assumed that immense political pressure was brought to bear on everyone who had any influence with the gangs to get this truce agreed. The ongoing feud, aside from endangering people’s lives, was embarrassing for police and the Government. Both are poorly equipped to deal with the conflict which is why National last weekend announced four powers that it will give police if National becomes the government after next year’s election.
National will not be leaving it up to gangs to decide whether or not there is peace in New Zealand’s suburbs. While National welcomes the reported truce, ceasefires often fail. New Zealand’s towns and cities, and especially South Auckland, could be back where they were with even a single breach of the truce.
The agreement, reported in the Herald last week, is said to require that Killer Beez members do not wear their gang patches in Ōtara. National has a better idea: ban all gang patches in public everywhere, not just the Killer Beez’s patches in Ōtara. Gang patches intimidate the public and make them much less likely to come forward as witnesses, which is naturally what gangs want.
Like every other law-abiding person, I hope the truce provides an opportunity for tensions to ease, and perhaps for the gangs to choose to resolve their differences without firearms. However, the real concern here is that gangs are still wielding the power. It feels like it is the gangs, rather than the police, who hold the cards.
Gangs are on the rise. At a time of acute labour shortages that are contributing to everything from bus cancellations to long waits for tradespeople, gangs are having no trouble recruiting.
The most useful available figures show that in the past five years, gang numbers have grown by more than 2300 – or 45 per cent – compared with police numbers, which in the same period have grown by just over 1300, or 15 per cent. Unfortunately for New Zealand, there seems to be a readily available “talent pool” that emboldened gangs are drawing from to grow their numbers.
In the face of this rising threat, the Government has done nothing. Yet evidence from Australia shows the measures proposed by National are, at the very least, worth trying here. In Queensland, where gang patches are banned and anti-consorting laws are in place, gang membership and gang offending have declined.
There have been criticisms that some of these proposed powers would override individual rights, including the right to free speech, demonstrated by wearing a gang patch, and the right to free association, by gathering with other gang members. The Bill of Rights Act does not override other legislation. Additionally, there is an important social contract in New Zealand to consider. That is an understanding that every citizen has rights and responsibilities.
When houses with children inside are being shot at by gang members, the perpetrators are breaching the social contract. Then, police need more powers to act, even if that action overrides some individual rights.
The causes of gang violence, and the pipeline of potential recruits, are often the result of complex societal and family dysfunction and disadvantage. These need to be addressed at their roots, in the houses where the next generation of recruits is right now growing up. If that was easy, successive governments would have done it.
National will use the best evidence it can find to show which interventions and initiatives have the greatest chance of working. In Government, we will measure our success by outcomes, not by how much money we have spent. Spending more money is easy; getting better results is not.
However, that long-term work does not absolve any government of its responsibility to empower police with the tools they need to keep our streets safe this week. Gang members are not only the perpetrators of violence; they and their families are often the victims of it too. Their lives also need protecting.
While National is critical of the Government’s inaction, we are not obstructive. National would support the Government in Parliament if it chooses to introduce the powers that National is proposing.
None are silver bullets but all are better than doing nothing.
• Christopher Luxon is leader of the National Party.
Post source: Nzherald