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NZ's Growing Gang Problem Puts Reputation at Risk

For Immediate Release
Wednesday 11 July 2007

NZ's Growing Gang Problem Puts Reputation at Risk – Urgent Decisive National Action Needed

"Time magazine's feature on New Zealand's growing gang problem shows that our country's reputation as a safe place to live and work is at risk, and urgent and decisive national action is required," Police Association President Greg O'Connor said today

"The Police Association has been warning about the burgeoning gang culture for many years now. Time's article is right to recognise that the tragic drive-by shooting death of a child in Wanganui was sadly just the latest example of innocent New Zealanders increasingly becoming victims of the serious violence that goes hand in hand with organised crime," Mr O'Connor said.

"It may once have been true that gang violence rarely affected innocent law-abiding citizens. It used to be mainly the good people who live in poorer communities who suffered gang violence, and they have suffered it for decades." Mr O'Connor said, "The Time article shows clearly that now New Zealand as a whole is suffering, with our reputation as a safe place to live, work and invest at risk."

"The Police Association warned as far back as the late 1990s about the gangs moving into making and supplying methampetamine, and the extreme violence that would accompany 'P' both because of the drug's effects on users and as gangs battled for control of the profits. Unfortunately those warnings went largely unheeded. It gives us no joy that subsequent events have proved us right," said Mr O'Connor.

"It is a sad indictment on our society that we have to wait until the sphere of gang influence, intimidation and violence begins to affect 'decent middle class families' – largely on the back of methamphetamine – before people start demanding action and the authorities start to sit up and take notice."

"Organised gangs are nationwide criminal businesses, yet police action to curb them is still a local district matter. There is a critical need for police to target gangs with strategically coordinated nationwide investigations."

"We need to give police the powers and legislative tools – such as civil forfeiture to target gang assets – to catch up with criminals who are dangerous, highly organised, and drawing on global criminal networks to try to stay one step ahead of law enforcement."

Mr O'Connor reiterated the Police Association's call for a Commission of Inquiry into gangs.

"The violence that comes to public light is just the tip of the iceberg. Holding a Commission of Inquiry into gangs in New Zealand would focus official and community attention on the seriousness and breadth of our organised crime problem. It would expose the nature and extent of criminal gang activity to the public at large. It could formulate well-founded recommendations that would demand a high-priority official response. And it would leave no one in any doubt whatsoever about the seriousness and urgency of our gang problem."

Mr O'Connor said, "Our ultimate objective on gangs should be clear and unequivocal: to eliminate the influence of criminal gangs on New Zealand society. Apologists for the gang culture, and inconsistent or weak official responses to gang-related crime only empower the criminals. They embolden the gangs to expand their sphere of intimidation, and at the same time fuel the notoriety that the youth street gangs idolise."

"It is no wonder that youth street gangs are on the rise when the male role models in their communities are organised criminals, and police are increasingly portrayed as targets for attack. As well as causing serious problems in themselves, many of today's teen thugs are tomorrow's patched career criminals."

"We can only hope that the latest waves of violence put the romantic liberal fiction of gangs as tribes of good but socially alienated people to bed once and for all. They are not. They are criminal enterprises that exist to grow their wealth, power and influence by preying on law-abiding society through drug-dealing, burglary, theft and violence," Mr O'Connor said.


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