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The Thinned Blue Line

12 May 2005

The Thinned Blue Line

There can be no question that we are a violent society. What’s more, we have become an increasingly violent society. We have barely started this year and already we have had 25 murders (five in Christchurch in the last eight weeks). That’s 25 Kiwi families who have lost loved ones and whose lives have been shattered by the curse of violent crime.

The police are doing what they can, (under-resourced and under-manned as they are). The debacle over the 111 calls, experienced cops perfing and going off to Queensland, the latest porngate public relations disaster, and the resurrection of the ghost of former Commissioner Doone have all had a sobering effect on police morale. The public clamour for answers. There are still some ideologues passing themselves off as politicians, who have failed to heed commonsense in dealing with criminals.

They are supported in their delusion that ‘everyone is redeemable’ by a coterie of bleeding hearts who see the offender as a victim. Violence begets violence, but so does tolerance of violence. Indeed, tolerating and rationalising violence committed by individuals is worse because it has the effect of excusing it.

I firmly believe we must confront violent behaviour head-on by promoting strong tactics to deal with offenders. While it may seem a controversial view, I am convinced that the liberal approach to ‘understand’ and ‘humanise’ these violent offenders will be counter productive. Those who disagree have never confronted the central question: why is it, in spite of our increasing expenditure on rehabilitation programmes and all the socalled progressive liberal sentencing and parole regimes, that violent crimes continue to escalate?

I argue that the modern ‘you are not to blame’ ideology, which underpins much of the rehabilitation model, promotes understanding and empathy with offenders rather than a focus on their victims who have suffered. Why else would a defence lawyer personalise and present the defendant in a nice suit and clean-cut hair if it were not to limit the severity of the sentence by humanising the offender? But offenders do not warrant such consideration; rather, they need unambiguous boundaries and clear judgements about their unacceptable, unsociable and unethical behaviour.

Why for example, did police drop two assault charges against Steven Williams, the killer of Coral-Ellen Burrows; was it because he was already convicted of murder? The lessening of his culpability cuts right across the dignity which we should accord the victim. This is a result of our criminal justice system being more interested in how we treat the offender rather than in seeking justice for the victim.

Part of the problem, quite apart from resource and manpower issues, is the inability of the public to give Police the confidence they deserve. A telling example was media concentration on the Bill before the Law and Order Select Committee last year that dealt with name protection in cases where there has been a lethal use of a firearm by Police. In a small population like ours there is a real risk of a police officer in the line of duty being tried by the media before an independent inquiry is possible.

No-one is suggesting that police officers should be above the law, but their job necessarily places them at risk in a way that is incomparable with any other. The persistent court actions against Constable Abbott are a stark reminder that in carrying out their duties, police officers must have the benefit of name suppression until there is a legitimate public interest for naming. That call should be made by an inquiry not the media.

Who are our criminals and where are they? Of 22,340 inmates released from prison between 1995 and 1998; more than 37 per cent were reconvicted of some offence within six months of release; more than 58 per cent were reconvicted within a year; 73 per cent were reconvicted within two years and 86 per cent were reconvicted within five years. Inmates over this time had an average of 30 and a median of 20 prior convictions, with over two-thirds (70 per cent) having more than ten convictions prior to being imprisoned. These figures show conclusively that most offenders are incorrigible.

These offenders did not commit crimes ‘accidentally’; they chose to commit them, and then kept on committing them. Those who sit and eat their lunch in their ivory towers, earning their keep by justifying their psychobabble, have unthinkingly aided and abetted these violent offenders by empathising with them when they should be holding them to full account.

We also desperately need to get behind our men in blue. Despite the damning investigation into Police call centres, we should lay the blame where it truly belongs – with the Minister of Police and the Government. Not only are they culpable for negligence but have been deceitful in perpetuating the “crime is down – all’s well with the police” mantra.

No one can doubt that a career in the NZ Police is difficult. It is often a thankless job where every failing has the glare of full public comment and ridicule. In contrast the good stories are given scant attention.

Where was the media coverage when seven officers received bravery awards two months ago? During the chase that followed attending a domestic dispute, Detective Constable Duncan Taylor was tragically shot and killed.

His partner Detective Sergeant Jeanette Park was also shot and seriously wounded. Constables Klavs and Daniel Cleaver, Sergeant Ford, Constable Knight, and Detective Burke all received awards for actions beyond the call of duty, but I never saw their contributions mentioned by the media. Don’t we believe that those who risk their lives to protect us deserve a commendation? The bad guys always get their names in the paper and it’s high time we read about the good guys as well.

If we really do want to work towards a safer society, then the Government had better start listening, do away with their failed rehabilitation values and start supporting the thin blue line that protects us. Right now that line is downright anorexic! The liberal sociologists and psychologists would do better to drop their alfalfa sprout ideologies and start thinking about all the future victims their beliefs will certainly create.

Marc Alexander MP.


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