Saturday, April 2, 2022

Point of Order: Williams has faith in data on Police recruiting but gang growth numbers are – a bit bent?

Police Minister Poto Williams was responsible for one of just two new ministerial press statements at time of checking on what the Beehive mob are up to.

She was obviously delighted to be able to end the week with something to crow about (she used the word “celebrated”):

Police Minister Poto Williams celebrated today the graduation of Wing 352 at the Royal New Zealand Police College, which marks the 3,000th new police officer since October 2017.

“The 79 recruits graduating from Wing 352 bring the total new officers since we took office to 3,000. The milestone reached today is a testament to our Government’s record investment in Police,” Poto Williams said.

The only other press release was from Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, announcing more humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.

Williams brayed about police numbers at the end of a week in which she attracted headlines of the sort best avoided by politicians trying to impress the PM. Among them:

* Police Minister blocks MP from meeting commanders, says cops ‘too busy’

* Parliament uproar after Police Minister Poto Williams denies rise in gang violence

The first of those two headlines drew attention to news that Williams was refusing to let National’s police spokesman meet the Commissioner of Police or any district commanders because (she said) the cops were too busy for him.

Busy trying to get on top of a growing gang crime problem, perhaps.

The NZ Herald reported:

Mark Mitchell took over the National police portfolio late last year and has cried foul over Williams’ repeated refusals of his requests.

The Herald explained it is the convention for Opposition MPs to get a minister’s agreement before meeting high-ranked police or senior officials in the government sector.

And Williams had allowed Mitchell’s colleague, Simeon Brown, to meet police when he was the spokesman.

Brown met Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and district commanders in December 2020, soon after the last election.

But Mitchell’s attempts to secure initial meetings have been rebuffed.

Mitchell made good political use of her decision, accusing her of being petulant and vindictive “because I am doing my job in holding her to account,”

“It may be uncomfortable being told I don’t think she’s very good at her job and I don’t think she’s across her portfolio, but for her now to use her political power and position in government to start blocking me from meetings – that’s Third World stuff.”

But she would have good reasons for keeping Mitchell away from the top cops – wouldn’t she?

Not really. Asked why she rejected Mitchell but not Brown, Williams said it was for her to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“I think the police have been quite busy in the last few months, so in this case I’ve decided [against it].

Police had not told her they were too busy for a meeting but

“… as Minister of Police I have an understanding of what police are going through at the moment”.

But it seems she does not have the same good understanding of gang recruitment.

The Newshub report headlined Parliament uproar after Police Minister Poto Williams denies rise in gang violence began:

There was uproar in Parliament after Police Minister Poto Williams denied that gang violence was increasing in New Zealand.

Her comments came during a head-to-head with National’s police spokesperson Mark Mitchell, who, before entering politics, spent 13 years with the police.

Mitchell asked Williams if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch, a question she ducked by saying she rejected the premise of the question.

“I reject the premise that gang tensions have increased under this Government’s watch, because we have Operation Tauwhiro, which resulted in a thousand arrests,” Williams said.

“Every week, the organised crime groups are seizing millions of dollars’ worth of cash and assets; they’re making dozens and dozens of arrests. We are supporting the police to do a significant job.

“Can I remind the member he used to be a police officer and he spends every day in this House disrespecting and diminishing the work of New Zealand police, and I stand by the police every single day against your record.”

Under Operation Tauwhiro, 1531 firearms had been seized as of March 1, along with 53.74 kg of methamphetamine and 1255 arrests.

Newshub acknowledged that police have executed some big drug busts recently – the largest ever attempted smuggling of cocaine into New Zealand was seized at the border this month.

But it also noted that several experts have noted a rise in gang-linked violence, particularly shootings in Auckland.

Earlier this month, Stuff revealed CCTV footage showing Mongrel Mob members brazenly shooting a .22 semi-automatic from their car at rival Black Power gang members on February 28 in Napier.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster himself has talked about how violent criminal behaviour directed at police is ramping up like never before, and last year, speaking to a Parliament committee, he said it was because of Australia’s 501 deportee policy.

The number of gang members exploded by over 50 percent since Labour came to office in 2017. The National Gang List shows the country now has more than 8000 individual gang members, an increase of nearly 4000 since 2016.

Ah, but Williams won’t accept those data

She reportedly told Newshub the National Gang List is an “intelligence tool designed to give police a high level understanding of the gang environment” and it was “never designed to be an accurate statistical count of gang membership in New Zealand”.

What was it designed for, then?

Point of Order checked out the official information on the The Gang Intelligence Centre, which is described as a multi-agency unit supporting the Government’s strategic response to the harm caused by Organised Crime in New Zealand Communities with a specific focus on New Zealand Adult Gangs (NZAG).

The GIC maintains New Zealand’s first consolidated National Gang List (NGL).

“Gang membership information is collected for the purpose of maintaining oversight of the gang environment, to enhance our understanding of the scale of social harm caused by, to and within the gang environment, and to support the identification of prevention and intervention opportunities.”

Point of Order is in no position to say the data are reliable but we don’t see the point of collecting unreliable data. Moreover, key responsibilities of the GIC include:

* Managing, verifying, and updating the National Gang List (NGL).

We suppose the Minister is happy with the credibility of the data she is using when she says:

“Our Government has never been more active in the crackdown on gangs and organised crime. We’re addressing this issue through funding the largest police service on record, and are on track to reach a net gain of 1800 police officers on the beat since we took office by June 2023. With this graduating Wing, we are now only 389 officers away from meeting this target.

“To ensure that the Police can continue their essential work and high-impact investigations, such as Operation Tauwhiro, we will keep supporting them through funding and legislation, so that they have the tools to keep our communities safe.

“Even with the challenges of COVID-19, we have seen 1,200 recruits graduate in the past 28 months. The recruits have shown impressive resilience throughout their training, and I congratulate all of them on their achievement.

Williams presumably is happy, too, with figures that tell her diversity amongst frontline Police staff is increasing at record levels.

“We are seeing more and more women, Māori and Pacific graduates from Police College. Since 2017, nearly four out of every ten graduates from have been women, with Māori, Pacific and Asian recruits making up 37% of all new Police.

“It’s important we continue to increase the diversity of our frontline Police so that they better represent the communities in which they serve. The new constables will start work on the frontline in their districts from 11 April,” Poto Williams said.

So where should we go for good data on gang membership numbers?

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton.

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