$600m for police to tackle gangs, more officers, rehabilitation

Source: 1News

The Government says its package worth more than $600 million, as part of Budget 2022 to be rolled out over the coming years, will increase police numbers, tackle gang violence, and extend rehabilitation programmes.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi, Police Minister Poto Williams and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis made the pre-Budget announcement on Sunday morning.

It comes amid growing pressure on the Government to address a spate of recent ram-raids, gang-related incidents and shootings, a growing backlog in district courts, and questions over police response times.

Included in the package is:

  • $208m to deliver the Government's firearms register, which is expected to come into force in June next year. It's part of the second tranche of gun law reforms passed into law in 2019. Part of the money will go towards establishing a new business unit to implement the reforms.
  • $94.5m for a cross-agency response to organised crime.
  • $164.6m in operating and $20.7m in capital funding to roll out a new model for police's frontline response. The Government said the money would "more than double the current tactical training for frontline police, boost intelligence capabilities, as well as improving the safety and capability of tactical dog teams".
  • $8m for Te Pae Oranga providers and police. This will allow additional referrals for rangatahi who experienced family harm.
  • $24.7m for police cybercrime capabilities.
  • $12.3m over four years for better support for victims of serious crime.
  • $59.5m over four years to help meet the demand for critical court and justice services.
  • $16m to redesign and deliver Kaupapa Māori health services. This service helps people who have offended transition back into the community.
  • $24.9m to continue the High Impact Innovation Programme, which seeks to reform parts of the justice sector.

“In recent years we have seen increases in gun crime, gang activity and even more recently some forms of youth offending that puts both our communities and our police at risk and we must address that," Faafoi said.

“Our response needs to address the root causes of crime, especially when it relates to young people, provide more rehabilitation to reduce reoffending, and actively pursue and prosecute those who participate in illegal gang activity."

No targeted funding for ram-raids

Sunday's law and order announcement didn't include specific funding to address the recent spike in ram-raid-style burglaries.

Police Minister Poto Williams and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis.

Williams said the spike came after the time the Budget was being put together.

She said the Government was meeting with small businesses to consider a "whole range of measures" and work out what they needed.

She said more announcements were on the way.

Davis said it was important to keep things in perspective.

"This is a spike, it's not a trend. In terms of youth offending, it's actually decreased over the past few years."

The Government had also announced last week it was allocating $88 million in the Budget to improve student attendance to keep youth engaged in education and combat disaffection.

More staff promised

The package also aimed to increase the workforce in Corrections, with an additional 518 FTE workers over four years and 120 more frontline staff.

In prisons, 64 extra staff would also help to "boost safety" amid "rising gang numbers" that put staff "increasingly at risk of violence". Staff would also get additional training.

A further 24 staff will be added to manage persons of extreme risk. The Auckland-based Prisoners of Extreme Risk Unit holds 10 people, including terrorist Brenton Tarrant. Included in the 24 staff would be 10 intel staff to help "monitor gang activity and reduce the impact of trans-national organised crime".

An additional 100 staff will also be added to the women's prison network. This will include 32 frontline staff to boost health escorts for female prisoners and a further 70 frontline staff to help more women access programmes.

Thirty-three more frontline health professionals were also promised as part of Kaupapa Māori health services.

Armed police officer (file picture).

Williams said the package would also help grow police numbers, a career she said remained "popular".

"Once we achieve our goal of an extra 1800 police officers later this year we will ensure numbers don’t fall away again by maintaining an ongoing ratio of one police officer to every 480 New Zealanders."

Davis said he was confident that there would be people keen to fill the roles, even while Kiwis look to head overseas for work and record low unemployment rates.

He said the Government would look to fill the vacancies with locals first, then consider "overseas options" if needed.

Corrections also had an ongoing programme of recruitment, Davis said.

National and ACT respond

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said gang numbers and violent crime were up despite Labour putting more money into police.

He said it proved that "more money doesn’t mean there will be serious consequences for offenders or better support for victims".

“Until Labour gets real about crime and starts sending the message from top that gangs and the misery they peddle are not welcome in New Zealand, Kiwis shouldn’t expect much to change," Mitchell said.

“If I were the Police Minister, the measure that I would set myself would be simply whether or not I had made New Zealand safer, including our police."

Meanwhile, ACT’s Police spokesperson Chris Baillie said the Government's announcement of more cops was made "to cover for the fact it’s failing to meet its last promise”.

“In 2017, Labour promised 1800 new police officers. It still hasn’t achieved that goal. With exploding crime, it’s scrambling to make new promises so people forget about the old ones."

It's a promise that the Labour-NZ First Government met in 2019 but without taking into account attrition and staff leaving. The Government said the extra 1800 officers - this time taking those factors into account - would be achieved by the end of this year.

Under ACT's policy, Baillie said new control orders would be introduced to "crack down on gang members" by allowing police to apply for an injunction in the courts against a person on the National Gang List. He said this could be used to stop people going to certain places or associating with particular people.

“We would also implement a standard annual increase in the police staffing budget in line with population growth. This would provide a steady increase in funding for police recruitment over time to meet population needs and ensure that police numbers increase as they are needed, instead of leaving it to hollow political promises."