Gangs crackdown: National promises to tackle organised crime

National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo: Mark Mitchell / NZH
National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo: Mark Mitchell / NZH
National has promised to bolster police powers to crack down on gangs with a specialist unit and introduce tougher punishments for would-be offenders.

And, under a National Government, wearing any gang patches or insignia in public places would be banned.

It has also announced a new "Clean Start" policy which would support first-time prisoners to move away from the location they'd committed their crime in upon their release.

These initiatives – and a suite of others – were unveiled this morning as part of National's law and order policy package and are largely modelled on the discussion document it released last November.

It's part of the party's long-touted crackdown on gangs – a narrative National has been pushing for most of its term in Opposition.

Included in Nationals' law and order election promises was the commitment to established a specialist gang unit to "disrupt the operation of gangs and work within police to target the proceeds of crime".

This is similar to the controversial unit proposed last year modelled on Australia's "Strike Force Raptor" but any reference to the taskforce has disappeared from the policy document.

National would also create new criminal offences targeting violent gang crime and introducing tougher sentences for gang-related crime.

A National Government would also set tougher parole conditions for gang-related individuals, as well as changing the onus of proof, when it comes to gang related income.

Under leader Judith Collins' plan, if an individual is identified as member of a gang, they have to prove their income came from a legitimate source – as opposed to the police proving their income came from an illegitimate source.

Speaking to party faithful in Taupō this morning, Collins was strong in her anti-gang messaging, saying the country was "away with methamphetamine and gangs".

"National puts victims at the heart of our criminal justice system because we understand that, through no fault of their own, they are often left with deep physical and mental scars," she said.

Coming down hard on gangs was the centre-piece in this morning's announcement.

Photo: Mark Mitchell
Photo: Mark Mitchell
National promised to resource a dedicated police unit, which would exclusively focus on disrupting the operation of gangs.

However, gone is any reference to the once-mooted "strike-force raptor" but this appears the same unit with a different name.

The party's policy includes a number of different initiatives, including:

• Re-establishing the party's social investment approach and implement targets to reduce offending

• A "significant" expiation of mental health initiatives, including the Watch House Nurse programme

• Change the Victim Notification Register to make it opt-out rather than opt-in

• Tightening border controls through increased searching of containers and mail to prevent drugs coming into the country.

• Expand the use of specialist courts such as drug and alcohol courts, which help offenders deal with their addiction issues.

• Amend the Arms Act 1983 to implement the changes not adopted in the Bill, including introducing Firearm Prohibition Orders, provide clear rules around the regulation of clubs and ranges, and provide common sense exemptions for pest control
operations, sports shooting, and collectors.

• Introduce the Clean Start policy to help newly-released prisoners move to a new community.

The Clean Start policy is new and National said it would act "as a circuit breaker" and provide some prisoners an opportunity to begin life "afresh in a new location".

The support would be available to those entice of two years or less or who
have been on remand for more than 60 days and would initially be available for 500 prisoners as a trial.

The policy document said National would set aside $30 million over a four-year period for the initiative.

Collins touted her party's "proud record" on law and order.

National's policy, she said, was simple: "victims should get justice and criminals should be held accountable for the harm they cause".

She added that criminals should also be rehabilitated so they could be turned into "contributing members of our society".

Collins also did not mince her words when talking about the Government, saying NZ First, Greens and Labour have overseen a 34 per cent increase in gang membership over the past three years.

"Labour's soft-on-crime attitude has meant more violent criminals are out on our streets and in our communities," according to National's justice spokesman Simon Bridges.

He said that has resulted in more victims.

"Gangs and organised crime have grown sharply under Labour's watch. We will give law enforcement the tools and support to disrupt and halt the operations' of gangs across the country," Bridges said.

"National will respond to the communities' concerns about the ability of gangs to intimidate the public by banning all gang insignia in public places."



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