National’s plan to go after ‘crims, gangs and extremists’

National releases further details on its plan to go after the ‘crims, gangs and extremists’. Laura Walters reports

The National Party is doubling down on its promise to smash the gangs with plans to set up a new gang strike force unit and outlaw gang patches in public.

The self-described 'party of law and order' said it would also target the country’s most serious young offenders by creating a new offence category, expected to apply to about 150 people.

The Opposition’s seventh policy document also suggested those who commit more than one serious crime should have to do time for each offence, cumulatively. 

National's justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell said there was still a place for concurrent sentencing, but for multiple serious offences like murder, manslaughter, rape and sexual violation the offender should have to serve each sentence.

And there would be no parole for those who refused convicted of murder, who refused to give up the location of the body.

The paper, released on Tuesday, continues the party's recent, ramped-up rhetoric regarding gangs and other serious offenders, while also discussing its plans for a return to Bill English's social investment approach, and a focus on putting victims at the centre.

Smashing the gangs

Last month, Police put the total number of patched gang members at 6735 – a total that has been rapidly rising for the past eight years, largely due to Australian motorcycle gangs setting up chapters in New Zealand.

The number of gang members has risen by about 1400 since this Government came into power.

While there are many complex factors that have led to the rise in the number of gang members, the proliferation of methamphetamine, and related crime, National has continuously attributed it to this Government’s “soft on crime” approach.

The ‘hard on crime’ line is tried and true when it comes to winning votes, and the Opposition has been working to carve out a point of difference in this area.

This policy document reiterates that law and order focus, with Simon Bridges (a former Crown prosecutor) fronting the plans, backed up by Mark Mitchell (a former cop) and Chris Penk (a former lawyer).

“We won’t tolerate gangs peddling misery."

The stand-out proposal from National’s lengthy law and order document is that of a new police unit.

New Zealand already has a gang intelligence centre and a national organised crime group within police, but Bridges and police spokesperson Brett Hudson said the new unit would be modelled on Australia’s ‘Strike Force Raptor’ initiative.

The unit was set up in New South Wales to target outlaw motorcycle gangs and associates by interrupting any and all gang activity.

For example: if someone was punched outside a nightclub by a gang member, the unit would take over the case; if gang members didn't pay their traffic fines, it would take away their licences; officers would check clubhouses and use council rules to shut them down for things like un-consented work; and the unit could check benefit payments and tax records for taxpayer assistance gang members weren't entitled to.

National's law and order policy document unsurprisingly contains a strong focus on going after gangs. Photo: Getty images

“We won’t tolerate gangs peddling misery,” Hudson said.

Meanwhile, National is also proposing a ban of gang patches in public – a policy that’s been floated many times. Currently, a partial ban remains in Whanganui, along with a nation-wide ban on gang patches in Government buildings.

In the past, police have said a ban on gang patches would make it harder to identify people, and police their activity.

National said it was also considering removing parole for convicted gang members, or people who had carried out gang-related offending.

Policy tensions

National's discussion document contains a tension between ‘tough on crime’ and a reinstatement of the social investment policy.

There is tough rhetoric around gangs, serious young offenders, violent offenders, and prisoners who were not in work or training. But there is also a focus on Bill English’s policy, which centred on targeting funding where it was most needed. Some of it seemed somewhat contradictory.

On the one hand, National says it would crack down on young serious violent offenders by creating a new offence, while also pledging to widen the clean slate programme for young people with a single offence.

The policy document says National would go hard on gangs, while also providing an "off-ramp" for those who were in gangs.

“We want to hold the worst offenders to account and make sure they don’t cause more misery and harm to victims, while focusing on stopping crime in the first place. At the core of this is using Social Investment to help work with individuals to stop them entering a life of crime."

As part of this social investment approach, the party would also reinstate its law and order Better public Service targets, which were scrapped by the current Government. It would add new measures to be trialled in courts, in order to speed up the judicial process.

The key driver behind social investment was gathering good data and analytics, while also measuring progress, in order to pin-point where the money needed to go.

In the case of law and order, National says this approach has four key streams: measuring the burden crime places on society and how to understand if investments were reducing crime; building the statistical, actuarial models to help understand who was most at risk of future offending and victimisation; understanding what worked to reduce crime; and connecting these insights with decision-makers across the system and taking different decisions as a result.

“We want to hold the worst offenders to account and make sure they don’t cause more misery and harm to victims, while focusing on stopping crime in the first place. At the core of this is using Social Investment to help work with individuals to stop them entering a life of crime,” Bridges said.

National says the current Government has stopped using this approach, in favour of “ideological law and order policy which ultimately makes New Zealanders less safe”.

However, it could be argued the Government’s wellbeing approach was social investment by another name.

The current Government retained the Social Investment Agency, it created measures to track progress in core investment areas (like child poverty), and it continued to use targeted funding.

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