Addressing crime in New Zealand


My previous article explored some of the reasons for crime happening in New Zealand. This article explores how to address it.

The idea of what constitutes justice in New Zealand is one that has been controversial since the country was founded. Equally controversial is how sentencing regime under which judges hand down sentences is administered. The question of whether to jail or not is hotly debated as New Zealand often looks to the United States or overseas for ideas instead of coming up with our own.

But jail is just one tool that can be used in New Zealand, and nor is it – as we shall see below – necessarily the best sentence for many convicts. Jailing is expensive and resource consuming. Some prisoners for the first time in their lives might be experiencing order – a clean bed, shower, regular meals and supervision. It is indeed sad and quite wrong that a place of state imposed punishment somehow becomes the preferred accommodation of prisoners. And we as a nation have to look at how it came to be that.

But jail is at risk of being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when solutions are needed to stop people falling down that cliff.

In thinking of how we might address our jail population, I envisage only those who pose a direct and immediate threat to society being imprisoned. I am thinking of Malcolm Rewa, Steven Williams. For offences such as drunk driving an overhaul of how the demerit point system works to enable “residual points” that accumulate if more than one such offence is committed might be better, with harsher sentencing such as jail being restricted to those offences that kill, injure or damage property. When those residual points reach a national limit, that person has to permanently surrender their driver licence.

In many instances it is not the jails or the police that are at fault. Rather it is the courts, whose interpretation of the law, has become archaic. The police are the ones who look for the offender, bring them to trial and collect the evidence. The courts are where the trial is held and the accused is found not/guilty, as well as sentenced. It is this last part of the courts role and responsibilities where the New Zealand justice system fails the public on the issue of sentencing. Judges fail to jail that small percentage of criminals who are simply too dangerous to stay in society, and many of the ones that are there in their place, might not be best suited to jail.

In the first instance, I would be happy if there were considerably expanded community programmes where prisoners are put to work in the community. Some will call it abuse of labour, but when prisoners are released from prison they will be expected to somehow live outside of the institution that released them. That means finding somewhere to live; finding a job with an income that can sustain them in terms of the basic necessities, such as food, clothing, any medical assistance, power, rent and transport. In preparation for life on the outside would it not be best to have them in some sort of prison based preparatory programme?

Many prisoners are quite skilled. They might have been in another time before they derailed builders, farmers, tradespeople and maybe forestry workers. New Zealand is screaming for more trades people and labourers. The safer ones who are not going to behave like Mr Williams, the man who murdered Coral Burrowes, and try to harm their fellow inmates, might appreciate that someone thinks enough of them to provide them an opportunity for redemption. Prison might be their night-time lock up, but during the day, they could be helping the communities that they damaged.

A second idea would be to look at Finland, where authorities have adopted a quite radical approach to jail. Not being able to envisage this myself, I do have questions such as how well would such ideas work here? Would the New Zealand public accept such a radical change in philosophy, and how well conditioned for post-jail life would it leave the prisoners?

A third idea would be to either legalize or decriminalize cannabis. I have not seriously discussed the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis here, but it needs to be made clear now that there is a difference between the two:

  1. Decriminalization in this instance is the removal or loosening of criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis – it has the effect of telling the authorities to look the other way
  2. Legalization is the removal of laws that criminalize the possession and/or personal use of cannabis; the authorities treat it is as a substance that can be regulated and taxed

Both have their merits and both have their downsides. The legalization of cannabis might be the best move, but it would involve substantial preparation – the criminal laws, the medical framework for treating such addictions and their social, medical, legal and economic consequences would all need to be revisited. The judicial, court and police systems would need to be reoriented. Before that, it is possible we may see a move to decriminalize cannabis.

 

Asian “El Chapo” drug syndicate on the rise in New Zealand


Meet Tse Chi Lop. The Chinese Canadian man is known as an Asian El Chapo. He is a billionaire who has done exceptionally well out of the drug trade in ketamine, methamphetamine and other Class A drugs. Tse Chi Lop is the boss of a giant criminal network called Sam Gor. It operates in a dozen countries. The drugs, which mules have taken much risk to ship into countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and Myanmar have given fleeting albeit distinct looks into the life of a drug baron considered to be the most wanted man in Asia.

One such mule is Cai Jeng Ze, who was caught at Yangon Airport by Myanmar authorities, his cellphone yielded a plethora of data – it showed what happened to people who did not comply with the syndicate; all the normal data such as contacts, names and social media messages describing activities.

When New Zealand Police intercepted a shipment of methamphetamine earlier this year, it was probably not loss to Tse Chi Lop whose empire would simply ship another consignment over. 1,500 kilogrammes of methamphetamine was intercepted by New Zealand authorities in the first part of 2019, which is just part of a flood of crystal methamphetamine arriving.

How New Zealand is going to manage this burgeoning flood I am not sure. Certainly our customs and police need a long term budget increase to do the kind of work that will be necessary to help their international colleagues to locate Tse Chi Lop and bring him to justice. But of significant concern is that the United Nations representative on the U.N. Agency for Drugs and Crime suggested that the war on drugs paradigm is going to have to change significantly as this is too big to be out policed.

But will political parties come on board with the need to change the paradigm towards what the United Nations representative is suggesting? I am not sure that National and A.C.T. would.

Attitude change to Police pursuits needed


On Saturday 3 people were killed when the car they were in ran over Police spikes, crashed into a tree and went up in a ball of flames. They were in a car that was the subject of an abandoned Police chase when it went over spikes that punctured the tyres, causing immediate and catastrophic loss of control. As families of the dead prepare to mourn the loss of their loved ones, it is time to have a look at why so many people are making the really silly mistake of running from the Police.

A Police chase starts because it is an offence to evade law enforcement. If the Police see someone has noticed their presence and is trying to evade, it is an offence to harbour or otherwise assist them in their evasion.

Despite this there is a long and sad litany of people who have or killed/injured others as a result of running away from Police chases.

  1. A pregnant woman and fleeing driver are killed in a two car collision.
  2. A vehicle in Lower Hutt flees the Police, flips, injuring 3
  3. An underage driver and passenger killed in a crash fleeing Police

I personally believe that the ability to stop a chase from happening before it starts lies solely in the hands of the person that the Police want to talk to. Simply stopping for the Police will save lives, money, and resources.

However that attitude change is not going to happen unless there is an effective deterrent. It needs to be something that is grave enough to make someone contemplating a pursuit think twice, such as a week or a month in jail for simply evading arrest. Few, if any will want an instant jail rap on their criminal record. The potential impact it would have on ones employment prospects and ability to obtain things like a passport or go overseas because they had committed an offence for which they would receive a jail sentence, is something the sentencing judge should consider remarking on – crime has consequences and often the longer term aspects such as loss of certain liberties could be better highlighted.

For their part though, Police might want to look at the case of Queensland, Australia where officers are only permitted to chase if there is an immediate danger to life or have good reason to believe a serious crime has just been committed. The same applies in the state of Victoria. In South Australia incident controllers can terminate a chase at any time. That said, a lot of chases in New Zealand only last a couple of minutes or even seconds, because Police see that the danger of continuing the pursuit is too hazardous and stop.

But it is all too late for three boys aged 13, 13 and 16 who are now dead, and devastated families wondering how it came to this.