Address to Ngakia Kia Puawai NZ Police Leadership Conference

  • Judith Collins

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou, katoa.

Thank you for that warm welcome.

It is a pleasure to be with you today as this Ngakia Kia Puawai Police Leadership Conference gets under way.

I think it is very important that Maori, Police and community leaders can come together at an event such as this to build relationships, exchange ideas and discuss issues of mutual interest.

The subject of leadership is vitally important for an organisation such as the New Zealand Police.

Few organisations require so many people at every level to show good judgment and strong leadership in their work.

The Commissioner must show leadership in setting the direction and priorities for an organisation of 12,000 people.

District Commanders must show organisational leadership and inspire confidence in their staff and communities they serve.

Individual officers must show leadership every day when dealing with unexpected situations, danger, and people in crisis.

And courageous leadership is vital when it comes to the most important and the most vulnerable people they will meet in the course of their work - the victims of crime.

During my time as Minister I have met many hundreds of officers up and down the country.

The thing that distinguishes them all is leadership.

I believe leadership is intrinsic to the sort of people who sign on to be Police officers - whether on the front line, in management or in vital support roles.

It is a leadership driven by the need to help, to protect, to serve and to do so with openness, compassion, courage and the desire to make our communities safer and better places.

Today I would like to talk to you about an issue that has suffered from too little leadership over the years.

I believe it is one of the significant law and order issues facing us all here today.

Last month, a 48-year-old Mongrel Mob member was shot twice with a shotgun as he pumped fuel at a service station on the main street of Wairoa. 

The shooting appeared to be in retaliation for another shooting of a Black Power member that occurred a few days earlier.

The shootings were the latest in a string of violent, gang-related incidents in the town.

Gangs are an unfortunate part of many communities around New Zealand.

Gangs have infiltrated neighbourhoods, turned children into their foot soldiers and turned homes into methamphetamine labs.

I don't need to tell any of you of the catastrophic effects the methamphetamine trade has had on communities.

As Minister I have a policy of not engaging with gangs.

I won't even knowingly meet with anyone who I know to be a gang member.

I realise that this causes some consternation.

Many believe that to manage gangs, it is first necessary to acknowledge them, to talk to them, to listen to their issues.

Ignoring them won't make them go away which, I agree, it won't.

The trouble is, we have been talking to the gangs and listening to their issues for decades and have not made a lot of progress.

Some individuals within gangs have reformed.

But as organisations, gangs have been remarkably resilient to changing their ways.

We still have shootings on the streets of our towns.

We have increasing amounts of ever more dangerous drugs available on our streets.

Generations of family-based gang affiliations in towns such as Wairoa have created a tacit acceptance of their culture.

And gangs remain an attractive, aspirational lifestyle for some of our young people.

There is a widely held belief that it is society's fault that gangs exist.

I don't accept that.

Gangs are not the result of people who believe they do not have a stake in their communities and their country.

Gangs create the people who believe they do not have a stake in society.

They offer an alternative value system based on violence, lack of respect for other people, self entitlement and fear.

They legitimise criminal offending by giving their members a mandate to operate outside the law.

They harbour and protect those who harm innocent people, who steal from hard working people and who undermine efforts of society to create a better future.

They provide an entry point to the criminal justice system for many young people.

And possibly worst of all, they raise their children to believe that the gang is their family.

The gangs have been very successful at positioning themselves as victims.

There has been a ready audience who have bought into this nonsense.

In fact, it is the people who suffer as a result of gang crimes that are the victims.

People like little Jhia Te Tua, who was hit and killed by a bullet in a gang related drive-by shooting in May 2007.

People like the residents of the Palmerston North neighbourhood of Highbury, who were forced out of their homes by gang violence that resulted in the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Black Power prospect.

People like the countless families and friends of those whose lives are slowly and painfully destroyed by methamphetamine - the product that makes gangs millions of dollars each year.

I think it is time we stopped fooling ourselves that the gangs are ever going to voluntarily change their ways.

The methamphetamine trade has only made gangs stronger, more connected, better resourced and more sophisticated.

Treading softy around gangs has only given them the time and space to grow and spread their influence.

This Government is taking a different approach.

We don't see gangs as support groups for the disenfranchised.

We see them as criminal networks whose activities are detrimental to the future of this country.

Criminal offending is like a tax on every New Zealander.

A society with low crime is happier, more cohesive and healthier than one that has high levels of crime.

Crime creates uncertainty and diverts resources away from the productive parts of the economy.

This Government has a vision of a strong, safe New Zealand.

Which is why we had to act against the gangs who are responsible for much of the violent crime and drugs crime in this country.

Since becoming the Government, we have given Police new tools to tackle gangs.

And they are using them.

We expanded Police surveillance powers which enable them to apply for an interception warrant to investigate participation in an organised criminal group.

We increased penalties for belonging to an organised criminal group, and made membership of such groups an aggravating factor at sentencing.

Police and territorial authorities have expanded powers to remove gang fortresses.

We supported legislation enabling Wanganui District Council to ban gang patches from some areas.

Banning the insignia from which gangs draw their prestige won't make gangs disappear.

But it does send a message from the community that it no longer acknowledges gangs and that it will not be intimidated by them.

A new Police unit, backed by legislation, was set up to find and seize the assets and profits that gangs obtain illegally.

Already around $35 million of assets are under restraint by Police, including property, cash, gold and vehicles.

Thanks to these new powers and the hard work of Police, the criminal enterprises favoured by gangs are not as easy or as profitable as they once were.

Breaking down the gang culture doesn't only mean using surveillance and interception powers, and arresting those responsible for crime.

In the years ahead there will be an increased focus by Police in working with organisations such as iwi to create proud and resilient communities where gangs cannot take hold.

An extra 600 frontline officers around the country by the end of 2011 will give Police the opportunity to try new community based approaches to crime prevention.

In Counties-Manukau, where they already have 300 extra officers, new Neighbourhood Policing Teams have been working at a grassroots level to create safe and secure neighbourhoods where the residents are in control - not the gangs or other criminals.

Elsewhere, Police and Maori leaders are working closer together than ever through:

  • the Commissioner's Maori Focus Forum
  • Area and District Maori Advisory Boards that work closely with Area and District Commanders
  • Maori Wardens; and
  • Iwi Liaison Officers.

The Whanau Ora initiative will help build strong, well supported families who are better able to resist the pressure and intimidation of gangs.

Health services, alcohol and drug counseling, job skills training and anti-domestic violence support networks are being made more accessible to those families that need help.

I would like to acknowledge everyone involved in this important work.

One of the most rewarding things during my two years as Police Minister has been the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people in our Police.

I have met staff who give up their time to coach rugby or basketball for young people, or organise safe or alcohol and drugs-free socials for teenagers, or who go the extra mile during their work to build friendships with kids who are at risk of choosing a life in the gangs.

When it comes to breaking down gang influence, our people are just as important as policy or enforcement.

It is our people who provide the positive influence to communities over which gangs have an influence, to young people who might be tempted to join a gang,  to those who are in gangs, but want to get out and lead a better life.

Our Police have an enormous responsibility.

Every day they are exemplars and role models for those who might have only ever thought of the Police and authority as enemies.

Often, they are all that stands between young people and the criminal justice system.

They build trust and respect by showing trust and respect.

It's called leadership - and it's a job they do extraordinarily well.

They give me great confidence that the gang culture that afflicts so many of our communities can be broken down.

For the sake of our future, it must be broken down.

One day we might look back and wonder why these corrosive criminal organisations that promote violence, that sell drugs to our children, that destroy family and community pride, existed among us for so long.

Thank you for the role each of you plays in helping us achieve this goal, and to make this country a better, safer place.

You should be very proud of the work you do, and confident that you are making a difference.

I wish you the very best for the rest of the conference.

Thank you.