The Government's Crime Reduction Plan

  • Tony Ryall
Justice

Public Meeting for Ms Vernon MP
Ellerslie War Memorial Hall

Government Goal: Security

The Prime Minister has established two key themes for her administration: prosperity and security.

As Minister of Justice, I'm committed to improving security, particularly by reducing serious crime.

New Zealand Crime in Perspective

At the outset, I need to put crime in New Zealand into perspective.

Since 1996, most crime has fallen.

From 1997 to 1998, sexual offences dropped 7.4% across the country.

Dishonesty offences were down 6.4%.

Burglary rates, considered by most New Zealanders as their major crime concern, continue to fall steadily and are down 26 percent since 1992.

Across the board, crime was down 3.5%.

But, sadly, serious violent crime, and drug and anti-social offences, have increased.

While our statistics compare closely with other police jurisdictions, all the statistics in the world are of cold comfort to victims of serious crime, or to their families.

The public, rightly, wants action to reduce serious crime in New Zealand.

So do I.

Four-Point Plan

The Government has a four-point plan to help reduce crime in New Zealand:

Early Intervention
Crime prevention
More police
Tougher sentences

Early Intervention

The best crime solution for everyone is early intervention.

It's best for those who consequently won't grow up to be criminals, and best for those who consequently won't become their victims.

Longitudinal studies show us that the likelihood of a young person later becoming involved in crime is heavily influenced by his or her environment - family, school and community.

We know that family violence begets family violence. It begets other crime.

Poor parental support and supervision put teenagers on a path towards adult crime.

Educational and social disadvantage are key indicators of whether a young person will grow up to contribute to society, or subtract from it.

Significantly, it's not any one disadvantage on its own that leads to crime.

The real problems arise when young people face a "cocktail of disadvantage".

Early intervention is therefore our best long-term weapon against crime.

Since 1990, the Government has implemented a range of programmes that will help to reduce crime.

There have been programmes to help reduce family violence - the TV campaign being the best known.

In the education system, Parents As First Teachers and a renewed focus on Early Childhood Education are designed to ensure every New Zealander is well placed to take advantage of schooling.

Special Education 2000 is designed to better assist young people with behavioural and other difficulties.

In the school sector, we aim to have every child proficient in reading, writing and mathematics by age nine.

One thing we know about criminals - most can't read and write. And many of them can't hear.

In the health sector, free doctors visits for under sixes will help to ensure health problems are identified and treated earlier.

This will reduce the incidence of health problems that inhibit learning such as hearing and vision difficulties.

More recently, Family Start programmes have brought together our health, education and social welfare services to help families with "cocktails of disadvantage" get the support they need.

None these programmes were specifically designed to prevent crime.

But we know that the more successful they are in achieving their primary aims, the more they will contribute to reducing crime long-term.

Crime Prevention

Early intervention programmes are not enough on their own, though.

They'll never be 100% effective.

Some young people fall through the cracks.

Others face "cocktails of disadvantage" that are so potent they cannot be overcome solely through early intervention.

Again, many of the programmes I would describe as crime prevention were not designed specifically for that purpose.

In our education system, the Government has encouraged a wider range of opportunities in secondary schools and polytechnics, and through the Training Opportunities Programme.

The aim is to maintain interest in education for longer, and get higher levels of achievement from all students.

If formal education is not working for some, youth programmes such as the Conservation Corps and Youth Services Corps keep young people contributing to society and doing valuable work.

More specifically designed to prevent crime are mentoring programmes, neighbourhood projects, support for teenage parents to get back into education, and youth initiatives in Maori communities.

A large chunk of this work receives substantial taxpayers' money through the Safer Community Councils network.

The concept of the Councils is partnership, and it is working for many New Zealand communities.

Already, 61 Councils have been established in New Zealand.

There are over 1,000 community representatives - mayors, kaumatua, councillors, social service representatives and government departments.

They've worked on dozens of programmes from anti-family violence campaigns and mentoring of prisoners' children, through to neighbourhood-based safety programmes and establishing safe houses.

We have also initiated a number of crime prevention programmes specifically targeted at young people.

Police are pursuing crime prevention pilot schemes at 14 locations throughout the country. One here in Auckland is the Mt Roskill programme; Turn Your Life Around.

The programmes are generally operated through the Police Youth Aid Section, and are key to the success of turning young people away from crime or the risk crime.

Also vital to crime prevention is give people the opportunity to work.

Under this Government a staggering 600 new jobs are being created in the economy every week.

Labour's planned tax hikes, and I see now that the Employers Federation believe Labour intends to raise company tax also, threaten many of these jobs.

They will raise costs for New Zealand companies trying to compete internationally, stifle economic growth by reducing investment capital and savings, and drive our brightest and best educated people overseas.

Labour's tax hike policies send a clear message. If you invest in New Zealand and if you are successful - Labour's out to get you!

This threat to the economy is also a serious threat to ongoing crime prevention.

More Police

Unfortunately, crime prevention is not fool proof.

Criminals have existed in every society and always will.

The Government's message to criminals is this: you will be caught and you will be dealt with severely by the justice system.

National has invested in the police to the extent we will have a record 7,000 sworn officers by the year 2000 - up nearly 900 since 1990.

In comparison, Labour reduced police numbers by around 50 in its six years in power.

Labour's latest law and order policy is no better. Labour has no commitment to new police.

In fact, of the money Labour intends to bleed out of the economy with its tax hikes, not one cent has been earmarked for more police.

This is in sharp contrast with our policy of increasing police.

In the Auckland Region the number of sworn police officers will increase by more than ten percent over the next 18 months.

Auckland will receive another 214 officers, bringing the total number of police in Auckland to a record 2028.

In addition to more police, we are supporting changes to the ways police organise themselves to better focus on catching criminals.

We're confident that our new Targeted Enforcement Teams will further reduce crime rates.

The Targeted enforcement programme will focus on crime 'hotspots', and will boost sworn police numbers by 80 and funding by $6 million per annum.

We are also supporting moves by the Commissioner of Police to set crime reduction performance targets across all Police Districts. This is one of the key factors behind New York's stunning success in reducing crime.

District Managers will be accountable for the strategies applied to achieve these targets.

This will help focus policing still further on crime reduction.

The Labour-Alliance bloc has given this policy a ringing endorsement by copying it for their election year manifesto.

Of course, implementation of the policy started months ago and it is expected to be in place well before the election.

It's all very well for the Labour-Alliance bloc to talk tough on crime, but the facts speak for themselves.

Labour cut the police. National has boosted the police, and continues to boost the police.

Labour talks tough, votes soft.

Tougher Sentences

The differences between National and the Labour/Alliance bloc are even greater when it comes to sentences.

New Zealanders have made it clear that for the worst offenders they want sentences not sympathy.

People who break into old ladies' homes and beat them up or rape them should be punished with the utmost severity.

The Labour-Alliance bloc have attacked the Government's strong stance on home invasion.

They have expressed concern over our intention to increase penalties for home invasion crimes by three to five years. In Parliament, Labour-Alliance MPs railed against our plan and called for us to cuddle the crims!

But, we stand firmly behind the need for tougher sentences. I make no apology for wanting to roll up the red carpet in our prisons.

Home invasion crimes strike at the fabric of our society and the sanctuary of our homes, and we believe they deserve special attention.

When a criminal violates a home and viscously attacks a neighbour or friend, we feel vulnerable. We feel defenceless.

This is particularly so for the elderly who are often immobile and alone.

It is also so for people in rural communities whose homes are often isolated.

The home invader not only inflicts a terrible cost on their victim, society as whole pays the price.

For some, such as the elderly, this price is very high indeed.

They do not feel safe in their own homes - something I believe every New Zealander is entitled to.

This Government is saying that if criminals are going to inflict such a cost, then the price they must pay will be heavy.

The Government has also announced plans to crack down on drugs.

We have rejected Select Committee advice from other parties to go soft on marijuana.

Ecstasy will be made a class A drug, meaning tougher penalties for importers, peddlers and users.

Another area of concern for the Government is criminals who offend while on parole or bail.

I am pleased to say that parole is getting harder to come by.

The Parole Board is turning down more parole cases than it was four years ago.

In 1996 the Parole Board implemented a new method of assessing inmates for parole, that provides the Board with a more accurate picture of an inmate's risk of violent re-offending.

Parole cases approved have fallen from 32 percent in 1995 to 23 percent in 1998.

We are also increasing judges power to impose longer non-parole periods in more cases.

The Government will shortly introduce tougher bail laws, making it harder for repeat serious offenders to get bail.

The Prime Minister announced in February that the Government wanted to crack down on offenders staying out on bail despite having continued to break the law.

Our plan was followed by a chorus of "me too" from a myriad of opposition parties.

We have already changed the law so that serious violent offenders have to prove to a court that they will not re-offend.

This is the reverse of the usual onus, where the Police make a case against granting bail.

We plan to extend this more stringent onus to all serious offenders who offend while already out on bail.

We believe the number of alleged offenders denied bail will increase from 3,000 a year to 4,500 a year.

This will apply to all serious offenders regardless of how many prior convictions they may have.

We haven't yet had an opportunity to study the Labour Party's "me too" bill.

But from what we've heard in the media there are some real limitations to what's being proposed.

Security

The Government's goal is improving personal security.

Security for young people so they can grow up to take advantage of all New Zealand has to offer, not go down the crime track.

Security from drugs.

Security in communities and neighbourhoods to prevent crime.

Security, provided by the police, in crime prevention. Security of knowing criminals will be caught.

And security for criminals, in jail.

As Minister of Justice, I'm determined to work with my colleagues and the people of New Zealand to get crime down.