Police officers are questioning why they should bother cracking down on gangs when it's emerged that money taken from criminals is funding a Mongrel Mob-led rehab programme, the Police Association says.
Association President Chris Cahill said on Thursday he's been contacted by officers riled by revelations this week that nearly $3 million seized from criminals by police is now being used to fund the Mongrel Mob's Kahukura drug and rehabilitation scheme.
He says one officer has "likened it to the most successful money laundering scheme".
It was revealed this week that the Ministry of Health supported the Kahukura proposal to receive funding under the Proceeds of Crime, a fund made up of cash seized from criminals.
The funding of $2.75 million over four years was signed off by a group of ministers, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said she was "comfortable" doing so as it was supported by local officers.
But according to Cahill, officers he has spoken to aren't happy and are now asking why they should bother making "the huge commitment and taking the risks they do to bring to account gangs who are armed, dangerous, and dealing meth on a massive scale, when the money is just going to go back to the gangs".
"One officer likened it to the most successful money laundering scheme he'd heard. Police take $2m of dirty money - as they recently did from the Notorious chapter of the Mongrel Mob in Operation Dusk in Hawke’s Bay - and the Government returns $2.75m in clean money to people so closely linked to the same gang," Cahill said.
"Association members are clearly angry that Police hierarchy and the Ministry of Health consider a gang such as Notorious Mongrel Mob, which is responsible for the majority of meth dealing in central Hawke’s Bay, should now be trusted stewards of millions of dollars to fix a problem they are instrumental in creating."
Ardern rejected the claim of money laundering and said on Thursday the programme was about addressing meth addiction and reducing criminality related to that.
"It is, ultimately, a programme that was supported by local police. Really encourage the local police association to make contact with local police if they have a different view than them," she said.
But National's Police spokesperson Simeon Brown agrees with the comparison to a money laundering scheme.
"There is clearly outrage and anger amongst police officers who feel giving taxpayer money to an organised criminal group such as the Mongrel Mob is directly oppose to the work they are doing trying to combat organised crime."
He said funds from the Proceeds of Crime shouldn't go to gangs, but to organisations like the Salvation Army "who has a proven track record of helping people get help for their addictions".
Ardern told reporters on Monday that the scheme "was not just brought forward by the Ministry of Health - it was supported by Corrections, police, [Ministry of Social Development], and the local Hawke's Bay police".
"They, of course, would know more of the programme because it was trialled for a short period in 2020 and I place weight on the local police officers' views."
She said the scheme is based on a programme that was run back in 2010 as part of the previous National-led Government's Meth Action Plan and that criticism from opposition parties was just "politics".
"It does look pretty obviously like a political manoeuvre when you have a programme from 2010 of a very similar nature funded and supported and now we see National in Opposition taking a very different view," Ardern said.
"Our position is, fund what works - fund what makes a difference. We know we have to address methamphetamine as a scourge in New Zealand."
Brown, however, has said the previous government made sure "the funding went through appropriate organisations".
"If you look at what we did, those programmes were alongside organisations like the Salvation Army, which were the lead organisations. They were the ones making sure the money was being spent appropriately and there was accountability."
Cahill said the association wasn't criticising drug rehab schemes.
"We know only too well the crisis that exists in this area. Our members are left to cope every single day with people who need assistance and rehabilitation from drug use. New Zealand is so short on rehab resources that it falls to officers to do the caring, often in police cells, which are no place for a person who requires expert medical help," he says.
"It is difficult to understand how those who promote the need for drug rehabilitation seem blind to the dreadful optics of this Mongrel Mob scenario - let alone have faith in this multi-million-dollar scheme to do anything but line the pockets of key gang leaders."
He wants the money funnelled to "legitimate addiction services" in provincial New Zealand and for the Police organisation to listen more closely to staff about how the Mongrel Mob operates.
Ministry of Health Deputy Director-General Mental Health and Addiction Toni Gutschlag told Newshub drug use is prevalent among gangs across New Zealand and can have a "detrimental impact" on the wider community.
"It is understood that if gang members can be supported in stopping the use and sale of drugs, that also has positive impacts on the wider community."
She said the Ministry of Health received a request from H2R (Hard to Reach) - a research and consulting group formed to support the mobilisation of hard to reach communities - with the intention to work with the collective of Mongrel Mob chapters.
"When assessing the request for support from H2R, the ministry acknowledged that there was a gap in current service provision," said Gutschlag."The initiative provided a way to fill this gap, engaging with a hard-to-reach segment of the community."
The Mongrel Mob-led initiative is a live-in mārae-based programme which aims to address trauma and drug-seeking behaviour. A previous edition of the Kahukura programme ran independent of the Ministry of Health from September to November last year.
"This is a programme that has run for a short period back in 2020 and the outcomes of that suggested higher compliance with court orders, it suggested that people were passing their drug tests, and it showed signs of success," Ardern said.
Off the back of this week's revelations, Brown has announced he will be introducing a Member's Bill requiring officials to ensure public money isn't "used directly or indirectly for the purposes of making payments to gangs".