National’s gang policy fails to understand gangs

A few days ago two announcements about gangs in New Zealand came out that concerned me. One was that the Mongrel Mob had just announced its first all female chapter. The second one was a National Party announcement that it will massively crack down on gangs should it be returned to power in 2020.

I agree that the development of an all female chapter in a gang is a worrying turn. No questions about that. It means that whilst those women might feel like they have a bit of family structure that in a past life they may have never had, the violence, the drugs and the likelihood of Child Youth and Family being after any children they have whilst in the gang becomes very real.

It is perhaps the National Party announcement that causes me the greater concern, because National are once again turning to methods that have been tried, but not proven.

I am concerned that in pursuit of political points so that National may return to power in 2020, it has forgotten the how and why of gangs like the Mongrel Mob and Black Power existing. Or perhaps it has not forgotten these two important factors, so much as it does want to acknowledge them point blank.

If the latter is the case, the policy is potentially setting up to fail before it has even been implemented. Gangs do not exist simply because someone woke up and said “I’m gonna start a gang today”. Often they form out of people who have been marginalized by society or come from dysfunctional families. The reasons for membership may include anything from getting hold of luxury goods or services, but also a family structure that they might have never known otherwise.

Mr Bridges may have forgotten that a former National Party leader – none other than Robert Muldoon – once had a whisky with a gang, which earnt him their respect, especially when nearing the end of his drink he threw it at them. I am certainly not suggesting he try that. I am sure that things have gotten less safe than when Mr Muldoon decided that actually meeting 20-30 Black Power face to face and trying to understand how they worked and why, was better than rounding them all up. But perhaps Mr Muldoon understood something about gangs that we and Mr Bridges do not.

It is not that I am hugely sympathetic to gangs. I am not – the whole culture around them I find very disconcerting, but if we are going to lessen the issues around gangs we should look at the how and why of their existence.

Perhaps the best thing we can be doing is putting the markets for nasty drugs such as synthetic cannabis, heroin, crack and methamphetamine out of business. No good has ever come of these drugs, and they are hugely destructive, but the war on drugs as led by the United States is a complete failure. The need to start treating drug use a mental health issue has never ever been greater or more immediate and it is only going to get worse if nothing is done.

In New Zealand synthetic cannabis and methamphetamine are causing the most damage. In some small impoverished towns the highest earning jobs are actually on the black market peddling one or both of these two to the local dealers. As medical cannabis should be legalized, rather than penalizing the people who try to make a life out of drugs, having the knowledge they probably do to grow high quality cannabis, perhaps enabling a small number of them to grow cannabis that gets converted to medicine would be a solution.

But would Mr Bridges and his law and order gang see it that way? I am not wholly sure that they would.



Tightening the sentencing regime on violent criminals

I have been long concerned with New Zealand’s tendency to go lightly on violent crime and the loss of confidence it is generating in the justice system. I first became aware of justice as an issue when the mother of the owner of a high school uniform shop for boys that I got my high school uniform from was bashed in 1998 whilst minding her sons shop. It became the rallying cause for a petition that garnered 250,000 signatures and forced a public referendum at the 1999 General Election asking New Zealanders whether or not they wanted tougher sentencing. An overwhelming 92% of voters said yes.

In the both the Labour and the National Government’s that have followed I have seen nit picking around the edges, but no clear cut attempt at getting courts to impose minimum sentences. I understand why people do not like minimum sentences as there is a concern that it might become the default sentence for offenders. However I view it as filling in pot holes and ensuring that for certain types of offences there is a guaranteed minimum starting point.

As a result I have a perdition before Parliament that expires in March 2020 calling on Parliament to amend legislation to require harder minimum sentences for violent offenders.…/petition-of-robert-glennie-incr…

The catalyst came recently when a man convicted of rape was granted name suppression. He was no relation to the victims, but the judge was concerned about loss of reputation. Perhaps the defendant should have thought about that before he upended the poor girls lives. An earlier case along similar lines in the United States a few years ago involved an up and coming swimmer named Brock Turner who made light of sexually abusing a highly intoxicated young lady. Mr Turner however whilst showing no remorse for his case drew international attention and shone a light on how American sports handle cases of sexual abuse.…/teenager-got-off-very-lightly-after…

But there have been many instances contributing to my decision to take a stand. One was seeing an article about a drunk driver on his 12th conviction with multiple deaths to his name. How a police officer with the god awful task of telling some poor family one of their family one of their number has been killed by a multiple time offender is supposed to do that is beyond me.

I have read however of a man who has been convicted 26 times and gone to jail 12 times and still continues to offend. At that point, one has to ask if the offender has some sort of compulsive disorder, which I hope has been considered as a possible cause for such sustained and repetitive offending. Unfortunately the risk of reoffending is so high that some sort of facility is probably the only place where both he and the public will be safe.…/appalling-porirua-man-gavin-haw…

It is not that I believe the jail population needs to grow. I do not. Jail is for those who pose a pose a too big a threat to the community to be on the streets – there are other sentences that we could consider for those who have ill gotten gains where the offending did not threaten the physical well being of the victims. But the examples above I think we can agree should get jail.

Perhaps then the bigger problem is how do we get those who so brazenly threaten other peoples lives to be appropriately sentenced? This is actually not the first petition I have tried on this matter – an earlier one was rejected on the grounds that Parliament may not interfere with the performance of the judiciary, which I accidentally inferred when writing the text for it.

This petition is up until 31 March 2020, at which point I will ask for it to be presented to Parliament. In the interim it can be found at the link at the top of this article.

Second firearms overhaul announced

The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

Time to overhaul name suppression laws

Recent proceedings in courts have laid bare the issue of how up to date our name suppression laws are. From the foreign media violating name suppression orders around the suspected murderer of Grace Millane to Joanne Harrison who used name suppression to continue her offending, the circumstances might be different, but the risk of a miscarriage of justice increases dramatically when abused.

On one hand when dealing with cases where naming the offender risks harming the victim, such as father harms son/daughter, there is a good and obvious case for name suppression. On the other hand if one is dealing with a person who has a litany of serious crimes in the past and the judge has decided that somehow despite the past record, that person deserves name suppression, then there is a clear problem.

Let us look at a few examples. One of the most recent is Joanne Harrison, who has been sent to jail for large scale fraudulent use of taxpayer dollars. A recidivist offender, whilst under name suppression, Mrs Harrison went on to commit even bigger crimes, taking advantage of the fact that no one knew of her or her history. Now we are only just becoming aware of the scale of Mrs Harrison’s offending and the impact that it would have had because another judge has finally decided that the offending is too grave for the public to not know about.

Just before Christmas last year, an English woman on a working visa to New Zealand went missing just after arriving in Auckland. A few days later she was found dead in the Waitakere Ranges. It was a homicide. Not long after that the Police arrested someone on suspicion of murdering Grace Millane. Then something illogical happened: the Judge imposed name suppression on New Zealand media, but the media from other countries, namely Britain ignored it and so did social media. Within a short period of time the whole internet knew who had been arrested. This drew criticism from the Minister of Justice Andrew Little and the New Zealand Bar Association.

But here is the problem. He is only SUSPECTED of murdering Ms Millane. Yet by the weight of public opinion he was tried, convicted and sentenced by the public on social media on the same day he appeared in court to enter his plea and apply for name suppression. The trial is not due to start until 04 November 2019. We now run the risk that this person will never get a fair trial because the public are already convinced beyond reasonable doubt he did it.

If we approach the problem from another angle, sometimes the Judge is confronted with a highly affluent figure who has spent considerable money on hiring a good lawyer. Despite the severity of the charges the affluent figure might get their name suppression simply because the lawyer knows enough about the legal ins and outs to find a way of justifying name suppression and does so. Here this can become a major problem, because let us suppose for example it involves a large sum of money that they were responsible for the appropriate use of, it disappears and later on turns up in private accounts. The defendant shows little understanding or remorse for what they did and only appears regretful that s/he was caught in the first place. The defendant continues to pose a risk that the public is not aware of because money was able to buy name suppression.

I am thus not of the opinion that name suppression laws should be completely dumped, but I think there is a strong case for radically overhauling how we apply them. Perhaps all media entering a court room should sign an agreement stipulating that whilst covering the proceedings they agree they are subject to New Zealand laws including judge rulings on the case

In the case of Grace Millane if there comes a point where the judge is convinced the prospects of a fair trial are wrecked, no one gets justice. Not Grace. Not the defendant. Nor her family. No one.

And that is not okay.


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.