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'The wardrobe police': Labour rips into Govt's gang crackdown plans

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 25 Feb 2024, 4:16PM

'The wardrobe police': Labour rips into Govt's gang crackdown plans

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 25 Feb 2024, 4:16PM

Labour says the government’s plans to ban all gang insignia in public places and create greater powers to stop criminal gangs from gathering in groups and communicating is impractical and will further stretch police.

The party’s Justice Spokesperson Duncan Webb said there is little evidence gang policies such as Government announced today actually work.

“This is a superficial policy that adds little if anything to existing powers and even worse, the evidence shows it doesn’t work to reduce gang activity and intimidation,” Webb said.

“We all agree that gang intimidation must stop, but insisting that Police use their resources to chase down people for wearing jackets, bandanas, hats, even jewellery like rings, rather than criminal behaviour, is not the best way to do that.”

Labour Party Justice spokesperson Duncan Webb said Whanganui's effort to ban gang patches didn't work and was hard to enforce. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Labour Party Justice spokesperson Duncan Webb said Whanganui's effort to ban gang patches didn't work and was hard to enforce. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Speaking at the Auckland Central Police Station, National Party Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said under the new law to crack down on gangs, police will be able to issue dispersal notices, which will require gang members to immediately leave the area and not associate with one another for seven days.

Courts will be able to issue non-consorting orders, which will stop specified gang offenders from associating or communicating with one another for up to three years.

“The law will also be changed to give greater weight to gang membership as an aggravating factor at sentencing, enabling courts to impose more severe punishments,” Goldsmith said.

Under the legislation, wearing a gang patch in public would come with a penalty of a fine of up to $5000 or up to six months in prison.

Webb said the government is not interested in the evidence. Banning gang patches in Whanganui didn’t work as it was too hard to enforce.

Wearing a gang patch could come with a fine of up to $5000 or up to six months in prison.
Wearing a gang patch could come with a fine of up to $5000 or up to six months in prison.

From left, Act's Nicole McKee, Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith and Police Minister Mark Mitchell announce new legislation targeting gangs. Photo / Michael Craig February 25, 2024
From left, Act's Nicole McKee, Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith and Police Minister Mark Mitchell announce new legislation targeting gangs. Photo / Michael Craig February 25, 2024

Goldsmith said over the last five years gangs have recruited more than 3000 members, a 51 per cent increase. At the same time, there had been a significant escalation in gang-related violence, public intimidation and shootings, with violent crime up 33 per cent.

“We need to take action and reduce gangs’ ability to engage in criminal behaviour and prevent them from further endangering and intimidating Kiwis.

“That is why, as part of National and Act’s coalition agreement, the Government will introduce legislation to ban all gang insignia in public places, and create greater powers to stop criminal gangs from gathering in groups and communicating.”

Police Minister Mark Mitchell said New Zealanders deserve to feel safe in their homes, communities and public places.

“For too long gangs have been allowed to behave as if they are above the law. There is no tolerance for this behaviour and these new laws will support Police to take action against it,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the ban on gang patches would apply to funerals/tangi and although funeral services were always emotional events, that doesn’t give gang members the right to disrupt and take over public places.

Labour Party Police spokesperson Ginny Andersen said if the Government wants Police to do more they need to back them with resourcing, not cut their budget.

“Frontline police are stretched already dealing with criminal behaviour, so we have to look at what is the best use of their time. It certainly isn’t being the wardrobe Police,” Andersen said.

“New Zealanders expect that gang members will be caught and punished if they’re committing crimes – it doesn’t make a difference what they’re wearing. It’s likely that banning gang patches will only make Police jobs more difficult as they’ll be harder to find.

“We support continued efforts to reduce the impact and influence of gangs in New Zealand, but it is disappointing that the Government is diverting resources from effective operations such as targeting the financial networks of gangs – hitting them in the pocket where it hurts them most – and ignoring the evidence that their actions will have no significant impact on reducing crime.”

The legislation will be introduced to Parliament over the next two weeks, go through the normal public consultation process and expected to be passed into law by the end of the year.

Mitchell said Police Commissioner Andrew Coster is 100 per cent on board with the legislation and highly motivated to get out there with it.

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