Speech to Metro Sector – Local Government NZ AGM

  • Judith Collins

Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to join you at the Metro Sector – Local Government New Zealand AGM.

I would like to acknowledge the Chairman, Mayor Len Brown of Manukau City Council, all other mayors, chief executives, deputy mayors and councillors who are here today.

It’s great to see so many familiar faces.

It’s a pleasure to be here to speak to a group of people who are so dedicated to building better, stronger and safer communities.

This conference provides an invaluable opportunity for you to come together, exchange ideas and try to find solutions to issues that face you all.

As Minister of Police I am here today to talk to you about law and order, which is an issue that confronts all communities and all local authorities in New Zealand.

I think all of us here today have something in common and that is a vision for our communities.

We want them to be happy, safe and prosperous, where people take pride and have a sense of ownership.

We have a vision for communities where people pull together for the common good, where people can put down roots and build a better future for their families.

One of the impediments to stronger communities is crime.

Communities with low crime are better places to live, because they are safer and where people have strong sense of pride and purpose.

Communities with low crime frequently fare better economically because they attract investment in facilities, infrastructure and business.

As mayors, chief executives and councillors, you work with a wide range of organisations to create better and safer communities. The police are an essential part of that matrix.

There are changes to the way police fight crime that are going to make partnerships such as this more important in the future.

I’m talking about police working even closer with communities to set priorities and to take proactive, combined action on preventing crime.

But before talking to you about this new emphasis on community focused policing, I’d like to briefly talk about this government’s position on law and order at a national level and why a new approach to crime prevention is so important.

When voters went to the polls last November, they did so with certain expectations of what the new government would deliver.

One of the greatest expectations was for a government that wouldn’t be afraid to push back the influence of criminals and make New Zealand a better, safer place to live.

I believe that many New Zealanders felt that in recent years the criminals were getting the upper hand, and that the law was focused on the rights of offenders rather than the rights of victims.

In recent months, the Government has been implementing policies that will improve New Zealand's methods for dealing with the effects of crime, and at preventing crime from occurring in the first place.

Broadly, our new policies will enhance the rights of victims, remove parole eligibility for the worst repeat violent offenders and improve the management of our prisons and our courts.

One area of focus has been making life as difficult as possible for criminal gangs.

As those who see first hand the aftermath of P use and the downstream effects of gang activities, I don’t need to tell you about how deeply gang influence reaches into our communities, or its devastating effects on neighbourhoods and families.

We will be doubling penalties for being a member of a gang, and making it easier for police to intercept their communications.

We will be making it easier for police to seize the assets and profits that gangs obtain illegally - including from the manufacture and supply of methamphetamine.

Another issue confronting many of you is illegal street racing, and in particular the rising mob violence that increasingly accompanies illegal street racer gatherings.

We introduced two Bills that will give police and local authorities more power to tackle this problem.

They will target the things that matter most to illegal street racers – their licenses and their cars.

I’m confident these Bills will bring safety to our streets and peace to our neighbourhoods.

This government has a reputation for being tough on crime – and it is.

However, it also recognises that pumping ever more people through our courts and locking ever more people in prison is not necessarily the way to build a better and safer society.

Within the next few weeks, there will be 8458 prisoners behind bars in New Zealand. That is the highest number of people locked up at one time in New Zealand’s history.

It is not a statistic of which we should be particularly proud.

Recently I visited Queensland - which has roughly the same population as New Zealand and could not be accused of being soft on crime.

It has a prison population of only 4500.

We cannot go on locking such large numbers of people away. I don’t believe any of us wants to live in a country with Third-World levels of crime and incarceration.

Certainly, the belief that they will be caught and punished is the greatest deterrent for criminals.

But at the same time we must create an environment within our communities where crime is starved of oxygen - where it is not accepted as a fact of life.

This brings me back to the need for police to actively work with communities.

The Police Strategic Plan outlines the direction and main priorities of the police to 2010.

It contains a strong focus on working with communities to set priorities, to develop deep relationships with communities and to work in partnership to prevent crime.

It’s a fact that less crime leads to stronger communities. It’s also true that stronger communities can help stop crime taking root.

For too long, the law and order debate has been fixated on how we deal with offenders after the fact.

We must now look harder than ever at different models of policing and ways of preventing crime from happening in the first place.

Community engagement by police invariably involves a large commitment of time and manpower.

The public will always expect the top priority of police to be catching the bad people after crimes have been committed.

But there must come a point where we begin to give real commitment to crime prevention. In the heat of day-to-day policing this is never easy.

Community police requires the luxury of additional staff to embed themselves in communities, often for long periods of time with little or no obvious return.

The impact of their work might take months or years to show up on the crime statistics.

But I believe that for the benefit of all New Zealanders we are at the point where it has to be done. It’s time to make that commitment.

And we have.

In the recent Budget, this government provided funding of almost $200 million for an extra 300 police officers in Counties-Manukau by the end of 2010 and an extra 300 officers throughout the rest of the country by the end of 2011.

It gives the police the luxury of more fully exploring the possibilities of community policing without compromising frontline services.

It has been said that the best predictor of crime in a community is the number of people a person knows within 15 minutes of their home.  The more people they know, the lower the crime rate.

We need to start thinking of our communities as large neighbourhoods in which police, councils and government agencies create the environment for people to connect and interact with each other.

For an example of what that means, we only have to look to a fantastic initiative by Marlborough District Council’s Safer Communities Marlborough section.

Supported by police and social services, the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design initiative helped make one of Blenheim’s poorest areas safer by helping residents tidy up the neighbourhood and take back ownership of it.

The result was a significant drop in crime last year, with reported offending 41% lower than the previous three-year average.

Why? Because when people are proud of where they live they are more likely to call police when someone is damaging it.

It was estimated the project saved the community around $160,000 in 2008, which represents a 400% return on the investment made on it.

There has been similar success in Porirua.

In 2005 the city had an image problem. It was seen as an unsafe place to visit and live – a perception that was impacting on the city socially and economically.

A coalition of agencies joined forces to improve community safety, focusing on crime prevention, road safety and injury prevention.

Safer Porirua, a cross-agency initiative involving police, Porirua City Council and a range of community and government organisations was formed to spearhead initiatives such as street makeovers, promotion of safe design, graffiti management and community patrols. 

Safer Porirua's goal was achieved on 1 September 2008 when Porirua City became the eighth community in New Zealand - and the 143rd internationally - to achieve designation under the World Health Organisation’s Safe Community framework.

There are other examples too.

In Canterbury community constables have been deployed in shopping malls where they have built stronger links with the community, solved problems, and ensured greater availability and visibility of police.

In Hamilton police have launched a Campus Cops campaign, placing officers in four strategically located schools.

In Auckland the Eastern Area Community Policing Team has been focusing on alcohol misuse and the crime, not only because of amount of police work it creates, but also because the community has identified it as a concern.

They provided high visibility patrols and worked closely with businesses and residents. The approach not only provided reassurance for the community, but also reduced the number of notices police were issuing in regards to breaches of liquor laws.

With extra manpower and extra resources, police will have the capability to work more closely with government and community organisations on setting local priorities and building a platform for combined action.

They will be able to gain a greater understanding of communities and their needs, and build more effective community based crime prevention programmes.

They will be able to give greater emphasis to working with young people, and to generate respect for police and the rule of law.

We cannot keep locking such large numbers of people in prison. We cannot allow crime to become an accepted, tolerated influence in our communities.

With a renewed commitment from the Government and police, an opportunity exisits to tackle crime at its roots, win back our streets and create supportive networks where crime cannot again take hold.

One of the most important factors in the success of this approach will be you – local government.

In partnership with police, your ideas, energy and participation have already made an enormous difference in many neighbourhoods throughout New Zealand.

I would like to congratulate you on the work done so far, and look forward to many future successes.

I am confident that together, we can make a real difference at the front lines of crime.

Thank you.