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Watch: PM Luxon, ministers reveal new measures to tackle youth crime

Julia Gabel,
Publish Date
Sun, 23 Jun 2024, 1:27pm

Watch: PM Luxon, ministers reveal new measures to tackle youth crime

Julia Gabel,
Publish Date
Sun, 23 Jun 2024, 1:27pm

The coalition Government is introducing a new Young Serious Offender declaration, Children’s Minister Karen Chhour announced today.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has joined Chhour and Police Minister Mark Mitchell at a press conference.

Luxon said today’s announcements were about making New Zealand a tougher place for people who commit crimes.

He said gangs had been allowed to operate as if they were above the law - but those days were coming from an end.

From November, gang membership would be considered an aggravating factor in court cases.

“Sure, if you have made a bad decision you should have the opportunity to turn your life around,” he said, adding that those who continued to commit crime should face tough consequences,” Luxon said.

Luxon said in central Auckland, retail crime was a major issue.

“First we need to ensure police are highly visible,” he said, as part of the plan to tackling crime.

Police Minister Mark Mitchell said we cannot ignore how escalating crime had made the jobs of police officers more difficult.

Mitchell referenced the funding plans to boost police officer numbers by 500.

He said police were establishing Community Beat teams whose jobs were to be highly visible and deter crime.

“We know that communities want to see more police out more often,” he said.

On July 1, a further 21 police officers would be redeployed in Auckland CBD, targeting the busiest spaces, from Karangahape Road, to downtown and along the Viaduct.

“I know there will be a number of businesses and people who work in the city who will be grateful,” he said.

Mitchell said police numbers had already been increased and they were starting to see some “good, early signs” of reducing crime.

Under the planned Young Serious Offender law, a Youth Court judge would have the final say on declaring someone a “Young Serious Offender”. A young person would be eligible if they were aged 14 to 17 years old at the time of offending; have had two offences punishable by imprisonment of 10 years or more proven in court; and are assessed as being likely to reoffend, with previous interventions having proven unsuccessful.

Chhour said the new declaration for young offenders would “ensure they face tougher consequences and are better supported to turn their lives around.”

On youth offending, Chhour said what had been done in the past had not been enough.

She said New Zealand had “rampant crime, out of control.”

Chhour said Oranga Tamariki had taken the lead to develop a new sentencing category with legislation to be passed by the end of the year.

The YSO declaration would provide more options for the Youth Court and Police to hold serious and persistent young offenders accountable and make powerful interventions to improve their lives, she said.

“YSOs could be sent to a new Military-Style Academy, subjected to a greater use of electronic and judicial monitoring, and Police will have the power to arrest a young person without warrant for non-compliance with conditions of an order or a breach of their bail conditions.

“These interventions will not only benefit their lives in the long run but will reduce the number of victims they are creating.

”We are currently progressing with a pilot Military-Style Academy programme based at the youth justice facility in Palmerston North, under the current law.”

The pilot programme for the military academy will start with 10 participants who are already in the system.

Chhour said defence was involved in designing the programme.

“It’s about discipline, it’s about physical activity ... team building,” she said.

On the YSO declaration, Chhour said there were a group of young offenders who were committing serious crimes and it was important the issue was addressed.

Luxon said: “we have to turn their lives around”.

“New Zealanders are feeling it and they don’t feel safe in their homes,” Luxon said.

“It’s not fair they are victims of that crime, that they feel anxious ... going to work every day,” he said, about victims of ram raids.

Chhour said each young person in the YSO process would have a plan based around their needs. Many who had come before the courts had had a difficult upbringing.

She said: “what they need, they will get.”

“We have to start listening to them.”

She said she didn’t see these initiatives as “punishment” but as the “biggest support network they will ever have.”

Chhour said it was about giving the kids “hope”.

“It’s about assessing their needs and what they need once they hit the community again.”

On police officers leaving for Australia and the target of 500 new officers, Mitchell said yes some will leave, but others will stay and he said it was important officers knew the government was backing them.

Mitchell said the coalition Government wanted to put so much pressure on the gangs that people might think about leaving the gangs.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the 21 additional officers would be in place by the end of July

Coster said visibility of police had a positive impact on people in terms of their feelings of safer and in certain areas it can have a dampening effect on crime.

Coster said there had been all sorts of “murmurings” from gangs and he was confident they were worried about things like the gang patch ban.

Julia Gabel is a Wellington-based political reporter. She joined the Herald in 2020 and has most recently focused on data journalism.

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