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Simon Shepherd interviews Police Minister Stuart Nash


Simon Shepherd: New law passed this week means police won't charge someone found with drugs, unless it's in the "public interest". It's part of the government's push to have drug addiction treated as a health issue, not a crime. But what is actually defined as being in the 'public interest"? I asked Police Minister Stuart Nash.

Stuart Nash: Addiction is a health issue; it’s not a criminal issue. So we’re still going really hard on the suppliers and the dealers and the importers. In fact, we’ve moved synthetics from Psychoactive to Misuse – life sentence; gives the Police more powers to go after the bad guys.

Right, so you’ve toughened up there, okay. In terms of this particular discretion test, there’s talk of an actual test that there may be developed. Can you give us any details of that?
Well, that’s still being worked through, but Police do have to use the Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines. And, you know, is it minor? What’s the harm? Like, for example, if they’ve arrested someone maybe three times and they haven’t taken up any of the options available around addiction services, then they may say, ‘Well, hell. Maybe we do need to take another course of action.’ But this is a fundamental shift in the way we deal with addiction, keeping in mind–

So is there an actual definition of public interest in this? Or is it just a broad term?
No. Police will use their discretion, and Police are developing guidelines at the moment, and they’ll be sent out. In fact, after the bill was passed, on the Police noticeboard, there was a message from an acting deputy commissioner. They said, ‘We are developing guidelines for what this will look like, but this is what the law actually says.’

The thing is that discretion is nebulous; it’s fallible. It’s different to everybody, and so we’re going to see a whole range of inconsistency through this, aren’t we?
No, I don’t think we are, and that’s why it’s going to take about a month to come up with guidelines. Keeping in mind you’ve got the national-health referral service that the Police can use, we’ve got to make sure we get that right across the country. There’s 20 DHBs, as we know. We need to ensure that it is reasonably consistent across the country.

Yeah.
But the main– You know, and I do want to stress this. The main thing we’re doing here is we’re saying that those who are caught in the web of addiction aren’t necessarily bad people.

Yup.
They may find themselves just in a really bad situation or they’ve made a really bad decision.

And I understand the purpose of that, but I’m just trying to drive down into the discretion and the decision-making in a tight situation. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is the fact that Māori are over-represented in, sort of, crime statistics. It’s sort of accepted that there’s an unconscious bias in the police force. How are you going to ensure that that discretion’s applied equally?
Yeah, and that’s a really good point. Police have accepted there is unconscious bias. They do a lot of training around this at Police College, and they’re working to ensure that, you know, you weed out unconscious bias. I mean, it is called unconscious bias because it is unconscious. But, you know, I believe that the cultural change that is taking place in Police at the moment is fantastic in terms of treating everyone equally, and you’ve seen some cases of this recently up north, actually.

Okay. I’m just going to say that Māori make up 15% of the population but 40% of apprehension. So the statistics don’t belie what you just said.
No, look, we’re well aware of this, and as a government, you know, one of the promises we have made is to reduce Māori reoffending. And, you know, we’ve got some really innovative partnerships going on at the moment. I mean, let me give you an example – Operation Notus up in Kawerau. When the police went in there, arrested about 40 mobsters. This was a massive P problem. It’s a town of 6000. They found about 600 people had some form of addiction to P. So the Police work very closely with Tūhoe. I mean, you know the history of Tūhoe. So this was a real breakthrough to say, ‘How can we work together as a community to solve this problem?’ So, you know, what we’re saying is – we can’t arrest our way out of this. We need to have various partners – NGOs as well as other government agencies.

Sure. The relationship of police with Māori – now let’s talk Ihumātao. Do you believe that the police action this week has eroded that relationship?
No, I don’t, and the reason I say that is there is very good, proactive dialogue between the Police and the, you know, the mana whenua there.

And, sure, that’s at the end of this week. But at the beginning of this week, we had a tense stand-off, and so that was a bit of a blowout, wasn’t it?
What happened there is Police got very reliable intelligence that the mana whenua or– no, some of the protesters who weren’t necessarily involved, you know, or mana whenua were going to try and break that police line. And, you know, Police need to look after the health and well-being and health and safety of their own officers. They brought reinforcements in, and as it turned out, there was a bit of a mobilisation; there was a bit of a stand-off ¬– dissipated and de-escalated. But Police have a very proactive relationship and dialogue with those up there.

So do you stand by the police actions on Monday?
Yes, I do.

Okay, do you believe that you have sort of softened the approach, then, as a result of this, though? I mean, because if you stand by the police actions, why has then Wally Haumaha had to go in and sort it all out?
Because this is what Police do. So Wally didn’t go in, you know, with a baton and a shield and a helmet and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to sort this out,’ in the way that people might have expected in the 1980s. He went in there in complete good faith and said, ‘Hey, look, how do we work together to ensure that we preserve, you know, public safety, that the protesters can protest?’ Because Police, of course, understand the right to peaceful protest, and they’ll always uphold that right.

Yeah–
But they are there to uphold the law and enforce the court order. But, you know, in the old days¬– On Monday night when you saw the protesters come up – you know, and some, they didn’t treat the police particularly well – what did the police do? They stood there in a really non-confrontational way, whereas I would argue a generation ago, you would’ve seen police with shields and batons and helmets, and you would’ve seen protesters, and it could’ve got really ugly. That has changed.

Do you think that the approach that Wally Haumaha has taken this week should’ve been what you should’ve taken before Monday?
What happened on Monday was Police protecting the health and safety of their men and women who were on the front line. There were about 40 there. They got information – good intelligence – that protests – and some who weren’t actually involved in the actual, you know, initial occupation – the numbers were going to swell. They did. They held the line, and now numbers have reduced. So I think Police have been working in a really proactive way, and I back them 100%.

And what do you say about the way– I mean, you reference some of the protesters being not particularly nice, basically – you know, being allegedly racist towards the officers – what do you say to those protesters?
That is not the way to conduct protest in this country. I mean, I’ve seen a video where a guy went up to an Indian police officer – well, he looked like he was from Indian extraction – and racially abused him. Now, that is just totally unacceptable. And what did the officer do? He just stood there and did his job, and I thought that just epitomised how professional the police are these days. Very proud of the police service – you know, they really do do a fantastic job.

So your message to those kinds of protesters is what?
Is, you know, if that’s the way you’re going to conduct protest, I think you’re going to lose good faith, if you’ve got any at the moment, but, you know, Police always will back the right for peaceful protest, without a question of a doubt.

Okay, I want to move on to the gun buy-back. Now, today marks four weeks of community firearm collection events. How many guns collected? How much have you spent?
We’ve collected just under 9500. Just under 20,000 have actually been registered. We spent about $17.2 million.

Okay. You forecast a spend of $150 million for this. Is it tracking below expectations? Are people not actually handing their stuff in?
Well, what we’re finding is people are handing stuff in. What we always said is, you know, one of the problems of not having any formal register is we just have no idea how many firearms are out there. We did know there’s about 14,300, what they call, military-style semi-automatics, because those weapons did actually have to be registered.

Yup.
But in terms of your AK-47 and your AR-15 – the type of weapons that were used last weekend in the States for both those massacres – you used to be able to buy those with your stock-standard firearms licence, but we have no– they’re now banned. We have no idea how many are out there.

The Council of Firearm Owners says that a large number of firearms parts and accessories were sort of left of the list, because it was a bit rushed. What do you say to that?
No, I don’t agree with that. I think the Police have done an incredible job – very professional, and you talk to anyone– and, you know, Mike Clement – who’s the deputy commissioner responsible for this – on the first couple of days, he was down in Christchurch, and he said he deliberately sought out people who had a negative experience and couldn’t find one. There’s a very well-known gun dealer, for example, who said he has been looking for negative stories and can’t find one. So–

So there’s no concern of a sort of push back? Because at the time it was announced, frustrated gun owners were out there. One even used the term ‘revolution’. Has there been any sign of that whatsoever?
Well, ‘revolution’ was used by one gentleman, and he decided that probably wasn’t a particularly apt term to use. But the other thing that we do say to those who believe they’ve got a banned firearm that isn’t on the list – give the Police a call, you know, and if it isn’t on the list, then Police will do whatever they can to get it on the list. So this is a moving thing, so it’s not a list that we’ve set in stone and nothing will ever change.

Right.
And Police are being, I believe, really responsive to what they’re seeing out there.

Do you think that people are actually safer because of this gun buy-back? Or should you be focusing on criminal activity and gang’s possession of firearms?
We’re doing both; it’s not either/or. I think this will make our community safer.

And are you focusing on the right kind of firearms? Because a lot of the 105 gun-related homicides – as a report by Stuff found – basically, two-thirds were .22 rifles or shotguns, not the semi-automatics.
Look, any gun can kill. One bullet can kill someone. But, you know, again, I’ll reference the last two massacres in the States. Both were AK-47, AR-15. Both those guns used to be legal in this country; now they’re banned, and there is a reason ¬– because these are firearms specifically designed to kill people. Your .303, you know, that’s a hunting rifle; your .22 – rabbits. So what we have done is we’ve left firearms in place that we know are tools for the trade or are used for recreational hunting. The guns that are designed to kill people, we don’t think there’s a place for them–

Okay, your coalition agreement with New Zealand First says you have to investigate a volunteer rural constabulary. Is that actually going to happen? Or is it just a pie in the sky?
No, so what I’ve said at the moment is, you know, we’re putting 1800 officers into our community.

Well, yeah, but you’ve only got 800 so far. Is that right – only 800 extra officers?
We’ve trained 1500.

But they’re not actually out there?
No, you know, 1500 are out there. But–

1500 extra officers?
No, new officers.

Right.
There’s about 800 extra officers out there,…

Yeah.
…because there’s a bit of attrition. It’s some of the lowest in the state sector.

Are you going to put a rural voluntary constabulary out there as per New Zealand First’s wish?
No, what I’m going to do is once those 1800 are rolled out – and a significant amount are going into our rural and provincial areas ¬– we’ll look at if there is still a need after that for an auxiliary force. And if there is, then we will investigate it. If there isn’t – because 1800 is a hell of a lot of cops into our rural and provincial areas – then we’ll probably pull back from that, but always done in consultation with New Zealand First.

Police Minister, thank you very much for your time.
Thanks, Simon – much appreciated.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz


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