Govt's anti-gang proposals well targeted - expert

Source: 1News

A leading gang expert is commending the Government for showing restraint in its proposed anti-gang measures.

On Wednesday, after months of pressure to address gang crime and shootings, the Government proposed a suite of new tools.

They included increased penalties for gun crime, additional search and seizure powers for police, and banning "significant" cash payments for watches, cars and boats. The cash amount has not yet been decided.

Sociologist and gangs researcher Jarrod Gilbert said the devil would be in the detail. But, with what was known, he said the approach seemed well-targeted.

He said the moves were clearly a political response to what was - to an extent - a political problem.

"But they have actually managed to stay fairly true to themselves in the sense that they haven't responded with deeply political measures… rather than effective policy or legislation."

Gilbert said he was heartened to see that Police Minister Chris Hipkins and Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan stress the changes wouldn't fix everything and that it was only part of the overall approach to gangs.

He said that showed a "degree of thinking here" and a willingness to look at the drivers of gang membership.

The changes around cash payments could be useful for police because legitimate businesses would be able to prove why they needed to have large amounts of cash, he said.

He said people should be cautious about the new powers that would allow police to search properties and vehicles that are used or owned by gangs over a 14-day period.

Gilbert said while the intrusive rules may concentrate on gangs, once the power existed, police could end up using it elsewhere.

In April, Gilbert's research report concluded that it was "not clear" whether stricter gang laws reduced overall organised crime or violent offences in the country.

In the report, he noted that the public should be suspicious of politicians who promised a legislative answer to gangs because the reality was much more complicated.

Gang members on motorcycles in Grey Lynn, Auckland.

"It is clear we should be mindful of politicised commentaries occurring in the charged environments that follow specific sensational incidents," Gilbert wrote.

"Policies made in the heat of the moment, and in the absence of careful reflection, are likely to be flawed."

Others like youth worker Aaron Hendry said tough-on-crime approaches obscured the real solutions needed to prevent violence.

In June, National committed to introducing more anti-gang laws if it was elected to Government next year. These included banning gang insignia from social media platforms and all public spaces, allowing police to disperse public gang gatherings, preventing certain gang members from associating with each other, and stopping certain gang members from accessing a gun.

READ MORE: Mark Mitchell challenged on National's proposed anti-gang laws

In response to the Government's announcement on Wednesday, National Christopher Luxon said it didn't go far enough.

"Nothing in this proposal will be scaring gangs at all. That's why I think our simple four-point plan around gang patches, dispersal notices, non-consorting and ultimately firearm prohibition orders are really important."

Gilbert said National's announcement to ban gang patches in public was "politics over policy".

He said it would move gang activity underground, making it harder for police and the public to spot gang members.

The policy also attracted criticism from a former National government minister who told Stuff that a similar 2011 law that applied to Whanganui District Council area "was very difficult to enforce". The law was later struck down by the High Court for being inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Meanwhile, honourary Mongrel Mob member Harry Tam said the Government should be doing more to support gang mediation efforts.

Despite having a track record of mediating between gangs, "I struggle to get support to instigate some mediation efforts", Tam said.

Gilbert said there was a scheme for mediation between gangs in the 1980s. More recently, police and community leaders helped to de-escalate tensions between motorcycle gangs the Tribesmen and the Killer Beez. It led to a truce between the rival sides after three weeks of shootings across Auckland.

Gilbert said that showed police on the ground could already help with mediation.

"We sometimes go for fancy laws because they sound great when, actually, existing powers and provisions done well is usually what solves the problem."