The firearms threshold and the New Zealand police

Yesterday it came to my attention that an American police officer had shot dead an Australian woman living in Minneapolis when she approached his patrol car. The Australian woman, Justine Damond had called 911 to report what she thought was a sexual assault happening in the alleyway next to the property she and her fiance lived at. When the police arrived, she went out to talk to them, in her pajama’s. As she approached the car, an officer shot her through the open window.

It is incidents like this that make me very glad that New Zealand police operate to a significantly higher threshold for drawing on firearms than their American counterparts appear to. Granted the United States has a much larger population than New Zealand and much more complex and dynamic criminal elements, there is one really fundamentally troubling aspect to this shocking case:

The lady posed no threat whatsoever to the officer who shot her.

So how on Earth did he come to the conclusion he needed to draw a weapon, much less use it? When I look at police shootings here, I am grateful for the training New Zealand police receive. There are several very good reasons why I hope I never see New Zealand police officers routinely wear fire arms:

  1. The New Zealand police are trained differently and are taught to understand that the fire arm is the weapon of last resort. Because it is purpose built for delivering a potentially lethal injury, the threshhold for using a gun are correspondingly higher than that for using a taser, or lesser device such as a baton or pepper spray. I hope it stays that way.
  2. There is a certain degree of risk to the credibility of authorities when they play the fear card. New Zealand is a nation that does not like to be ruled by fear. If New Zealanders think authorities are purposefully playing on fear, the authorities will lose respect and any measures seen as punitive will become the target of ridicule. By giving authorities the means to use lethal force, the red line in the sand between credible fear and scare mongering comes a giant step closer to merging.
  3. The gun culture in America makes things much more dangerous than it does in New Zealand. Because the Second Amendment explicitly permits Americans to use firearms for self defence, and because the National Rifle Association holds significant clout with conservatives who often complain about Americans having their gun rights eroded, it is a highly politicized issue which can cause politicians to tread unnecessarily warily around. We do not have that antagonism here and there is no reason to start now.
  4. There is a degree of moral integrity at stake when a police officer shoots someone – for arguments sake – fatally. Because if that person was not armed, or in possession of something less lethal than a fire arm, unless the officer had expended the non-lethal options at their disposal and had failed to subdue the suspect, that officer has potentially committed manslaughter (giving the officer the benefit of the doubt that they did not intend to kill). How can one ascertain the suitability of an officer to possess firearms?
  5. The Police Complaints Authority and the system of accountability it uses to ensure that complaints against the New Zealand Police can be assessed have been found wanting with current cases. One where a formal complaint is laid for the accidental shooting of a homeless man high on methamphetamine could expose it and New Zealands reputation as a safe place with a reliable police force at risk. We cannot afford that.

However, a person high on drugs cannot be reasoned with, at least not safely. Their reactions, their understanding of their immediate physical circumstances and their location is likely to be affected. An officer who approaches a person in such a state is right to be wary.

Despite the concerns that New Zealand police may become like their American counterparts, I think the public scrutiny on the police force and their reactivity to that scrutiny is a good thing. The certainty that individual shootings are automatically referred to the Police Conduct Authority means officers have good reason to be careful about the use of force.

Between a constitutional rock and a dam(n) hard place

National is in an unenviable position largely of its own making. Resistance has been growing against Ruataniwha Dam, throwing the whole project, which is growing increasingly controversial because of its likely environmental impact into significant doubt. But now a court ruling has left National in a bind. Does it accept the ruling against the dam and cancel the project – costing jobs and potentially votes – or does it violate what is considered to be constitutional law and proceed with something the Court of Appeal has said no to?

But am I sympathetic to National’s hard choice? No. It did not have to come down to this, and there are many reasons other than the environmental impact as to why the Ruataniwha dam should not proceed:

  1. The lake that would be impounded by it would cross some large fault lines – any rupture event on one of them involving vertical displacement would send millions of litres of water rushing down the lake to possibly over top the dam
  2. It was a misguided use of Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s mandate and ratepayer money that was questionable from the get go
  3. Climate change will impact on how water takes are issued because the known amount available in a catchment will decrease, thus affecting availability
  4. Hawkes Bay Regional Councillors themselves have admitted the dam project is dead

The ruling (ruling starts on page 68)was in response to a proposed land swap involving Department of Conservation land. The ruling had said that Department of Conservation land cannot be grabbed by developers. At the crux of the matter was whether or not the Minister can revoke protected status on conservation land. The answer is yes the Minister can, but only if the lands conservation values no longer warrant such protection. The land at the heart of the planned swap did warrant such protection, and thus moves to revoke it would have been in breach of the Conservation Act (Section 18(7)).

This is a tough place to be for National. It wants the project to go ahead because it would create jobs and the party would be able to say it is addressing water storage issues in the region by blocking the Makaroro River.

The ruling also has legal consequences that cannot be ignored. The Government has said it is prepared to overturn the law as a result of this ruling, which in some respects would leave it in contempt of the court. That in itself is an offence. But if it happened, who would hold National to account?

But you got yourself into that spot National. Now you can get out of it.

Foreign trusts flee New Zealand

A year ago a political storm erupted over a company based in Panama and a huge release of potentially explosive papers. Their scope was vast. Their contents muddy. The Opposition parties were delighted – here was something that they thought could be smeared all over the Government.

A year on, how has the Government fared in the wake of the Mossack Fonseca affair? Surprisingly well it would seem, with most people having probably forgotten that this even happened. Despite having mud not of their own making getting smeared over them by the Government in one of their more desperate moments of defence, Amnesty International and Greenpeace seemed to quickly move along to more pressing concerns.

But what of the foreign trusts at the centre of the scandal?

At a first glance, the effect seems to have been dramatic. In an effort to shut down the Opposition attacks, which appeared to be gaining traction, the Government of then Prime Minister John Key had announced an inquiry into what had become known as the Panama Papers. In June 2016 the inquiry reported it had completed its work. The inquiry had found:

  • New Zealand laws were not adequate for a country that prides itself on co-operating with other countries in deterring money laundering and other illegal activities
  • Likelihood of detection of such illegal activities by authorities to be low
  • Whilst no evidence was immediately obvious that illicit funds were being stored by foreign trusts in New Zealand it was reasonable to conclude that foreign trusts are being used in such a manner

John Shewan’s inquiry recommended tighter and more wide ranging disclosure rules, a registry that can be viewed by I.R.D. and a $500 annual fee be implemented. The Government agreed to implement most of the recommendations.

In April 2016 there were 11,645 known foreign trusts in New Zealand. When a deadline to file required information on their structure and activities expired last week, fewer than 3,000 had done so, meaning well over 8,000 trusts were no longer able to operate in New Zealand. 3,000 of these had said to Inland Revenue Department that they were not prepared to be subject to the tighter rules, thus rendering them ineligible to operate here. Another 5,000 had never made contact before the deadline expired, thus also rendering them ineligible.

Why? It depends on whom one talks to. Labour spokesperson Michael Wood believes that many of them could have been a legal front to hide money laundering and other illegal activities. Minister of Justice, Judith Collins on the other hand believes that it is wrong to think that the companies that moved out of New Zealand were engaged in illegal activities.

I believe that that a significant number, even if they were not necessarily engaged in illegal activities, would have known about or even in some capacity been an accessory to money laundering and aggressive tax activities. Because of this, I believe that a further deterrent of heavy penalties to both trusts and the people behind them should be established. This would be so that trusts that do set up in New Zealand know it does not pay to be an illegitimate operation.

Because after all, a 75% drop in registered foreign trusts I believe is rather telling.

Chelsea Manning a whistle blower of another kind

Yesterday I mentioned whistle blowers of the domestic sort, exposing criminal activity in the civilian sector. The case I mentioned was one involving a manager at the New Zealand Transport Authority who has just started jail time for fraudulent activity involving over $725,000.

As a follow up example of another sort of whistle blower, it is worthwhile mentioning Chelsea Manning, the soldier in the United States Army who disclosed highly classified government data to Wikileaks. Private Manning who has been in jail for the last 7 years was released from jail on 16 May 2017. It is true what Private Manning did was highly illegal under any circumstances, and any other country would probably have deemed her a traitor with a potential life sentence.

But in this case, by virtue of the nature of the classified secrets – an attempt to hide war crimes in Iraq – this was a very risky but very brave move. President Obama, perhaps acknowledging that the actions she undertook in sharing with Wikileaks these secrets, exposed improper activities by the Government, pardoned Private Manning three days before he left office. Those activities included completely avoidable civilian deaths in Iraq and the abuse of detainees. They and other activities led the U.S. Government to end the Ambassadorships of several ambassadors around the world.

Would a New Zealander be this brave? And what would the authorities and other New Zealanders say? Would they understand on principle that there are exceptions that need to be made, when exposing highly sensitive information covering up the misdeeds of Government departments and the military. And would they accept as a result that just very rarely, this is a necessary act?




Margaret Dodd symptomatic of a bigger problem

We talk so often about people being unstable in terms of their mental health and needing urgent help. We see what happens when people in desperate need of mental health assistance begin to offend. Yet, New Zealand cuts their funding, cuts the services that might save their lives, save New Zealand from another innocent person being raped/murdered/etc by someone whose mind is shot. And now, in 2017 I tell you about a case that I have been casually tracking vis-a-vis the media for the last couple of years. It is about a woman who at first I thought was just a a disgusting woman with a sick perversion towards young boys, but now I honestly think she needs mental health assistance and fast.

The re-emergence of Margaret Dodd in the media should be of significant concern not only to people who are parents of young children, but to health authorities as well. After a jail period of several months, a lady who has been banned from numerous schools, parks and other public areas, is once again being found loitering around areas with young children, particularly young boys. Her case is not new. This began as much as 2 or 3 years ago. The lady involved is in her 50’s or early 60’s and – much to the chagrin of the police, public and schools alike – she cannot really be touched for one reason or another, and yet, the danger she poses should set alarm bells ringing in every school in her vicinity.

But is Margaret Dodd actually a serious danger? There is no doubt that she has a major problem with boys, especially those of pre-pubescent age. There is no doubt that she has posed a risk to them by constantly being around them in ways any parent would find profoundly disturbing. But – and we could all be wrong here – something in the normal sense of someone being seriously in need of being locked up is not quite adding up.

The very sad and ugly truth about mental health in New Zealand is that people are committing violent or potentially violent offences in order to get themselves noticed by officials. Driven to desperation from continually being turned away, their ability to articulate their issue matched and in too many cases overtaken by the deaf, totally mute mental welfare system, they turn to crime. Their lives are spiralling out of control, out the ability of friends and loved ones to help, who find themselves recoiling at what has happened to a person who in the past might have been among their nearest and dearest.

Whilst I am concerned in no uncertain terms about what Margaret Dodd may be up to, she strikes me as someone who may have back ground issues. And this is where things become quite alarmiing. Margaret Dodd has shown no understanding, remorse or anything else that might suggest she migh know the implications of what she is doing. And yet her offences seem to be accelerating. Going to jail seems to have done nothing at all for her – or anyone else

I am NOT defending Margaret Dodd. If she is a cunning calculating paedophile or other offender who is simply playing the system, she needs to go away for a long time.

But what if she is genuinely not able to understand what she has done? What if she is genuinely mentally ill and needs help?

Jail with a bunch of other criminals sure ain’t gonna help that. So let us assess Margaret Dodd. Is this lady who has been harassing Christchurch schools, parks and other public places an actual menace or someone screaming for help because social agencies have once again failed to spot the warning signs?