Monday, May 20, 2024

Mark Mitchell’s promised gang crackdown arrives

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Police are creating two specialised units that will target gang offending. File photo supplied

A public commitment to crack down on gang crime made two years ago in east Auckland by National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell has come to fruition.

Mitchell, who’s now Police Minister, spoke at a local meeting on law and order hosted by Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown in late 2022.

Following the meeting Mitchell told the Times frontline police officers wanted to crack down on gangs harder but were being hamstrung by a Labour Government that wanted fewer people going through the justice system.

He said there had been a substantial increase in gang numbers in New Zealand since Labour was elected and gangs were exhibiting a “new level of sophistication, organisation and violence”.

“That was introduced by the 501s [deported from Australia], but we already had a big gang problem that existed prior to the arrival of them.

“On top of that you’ve got gun reform that really didn’t take the guns out of the hands of people we needed to.

“We ended up with gang members who are well armed, and the worst part is it’s obvious they’re prepared to use them.

“It draws it all to a head where in Auckland we experienced, over 14 days, 23 drive-by shootings.”

Mitchell said National had called for a dedicated taskforce to be established to “meet the growing rise in gang numbers and gang violence”.

“They’re [the police] the only agency we have that has the training and the powers to be able to tackle gangs and serious crime in our communities and of course we’d back that up by passing legislation quickly that gave them additional powers.”

That commitment came to fruition yesterday, May 14, when Police Commissioner Andrew Coster announced the formation of a new National Gang Unit and frontline teams to increase pressure on gangs.

Coster says national and frontline gang-focused units will be established to combat offending and intimidation by gangs.

“Gang members commit a disproportionate amount of crime and harm in New Zealand, and particularly in the areas of serious assault, robberies, drug and firearms offences, and homicides.

“Police have been working hard to combat the impact of gangs and organised crime groups in recent times, through targeted national and district operations, organised crime investigations, Offender Prevention Teams, and many other responses.

“A new National Gang Unit is to be established to enable the continuation of this work and build our operational capability further.”

He says the unit will work with police districts across the country, drawing on the successes of Operation Cobalt and other co-ordinated responses to gang funerals and other gang activity.

“The National Gang Unit will support district-based staff to plan and coordinate enforcement, resources and police responses, in a determined effort to continue applying pressure on gangs to disrupt and prevent gang-related crime, disorder, and intimidation.

“Incoming legislation will provide police with new tools to respond to the harm caused by gangs, and help ensure communities feel safe.”

Coster says the National Gang Unit will help ensure officers can effectively enforce the intent of the legislation.

“To further our frontline capability, we will also be investing in new Gang Disruption Units.

“These will be dedicated district teams to help identify, target and catch priority offenders, and maintain a focused view of the gang environment.”

National Party MPs Simeon Brown, left, and Mark Mitchell addressed an east Auckland audience on law and order issues in 2022. Times file photo

Mitchell says he welcomes the announcement and the new units will help deliver on the Government’s pledge to restore law and order and crack down on gangs.

“The National Gang Unit and Gang Disruption Units will bring to bear the highest levels of police expertise in targeting and harassing gang members and make maximum use of new tools brought in by this Government to suppress and contain the misery that gangs cause.

“Gangs exist only to cause and perpetuate violence and misery in our communities.

“New Zealanders need only look at the fatal shooting in Ponsonby recently by a gang member to see the impact that a 73 per cent increase in gang membership from 2017 to 2023 has had on violent crime in our communities.

“The establishment of a National Gang Unit extends on the work already done by Operation Cobalt and will build operational capability when combatting gangs.

“In addition, police are investing in Gang Disruption Units at a district level to identify, target and catch priority gang offenders.

“It is totally unacceptable that there is a group in society that believes it is above the law.

“We back our police to tackle gangs and welcome their initiative in announcing both the new National Gang Unit and district Gang Disruption Units.”

Mitchell says the Government has a plan to recruit 500 additional police officers.

It’s giving them powers to crack down on gang offending, introducing legislation to ban all gang insignia in public, create greater powers to stop criminal gangs from gathering in groups and communicating, and give greater weight to gang membership at sentencing.

Following Coster’s announcement, Labour Party police spokesperson Ginny Andersen said: “Unlike Labour, National has put no extra resources today into tackling gangs and organised crime.

“Just like they won’t pay police properly for the extra work they’re asking them to do.

“Mark Mitchell couldn’t say how many people would be in what he says are ‘new’ units, what they would do, or how they would be funded.

“This is a rebrand of Labour’s approach, not anything new.”

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