Government needs to 'sort out priorities' following major $600m crime package announcement - Opposition

Opposition political parties are blasting the Government's crime announcement, saying they need to "sort out their priorities" because more police numbers won't mean tougher consequences for offenders.

The Government announced on Sunday a $600 million package to address the spate of crimes currently ripping through New Zealand. It will see an increase in police numbers, nearly $100m to tackle gang violence, and an extension to rehabilitation programmes to break the cycle of offending and entering a life of crime, the Government said in its announcement.

More than $562m over four years will be invested in police.

"This Budget builds on our investment in record police numbers, tackling gun crime and violent offenders and reducing reoffending, all of which help to keep New Zealand communities safe," Police Minister Poto Williams said.

Williams said the first priority of the new package was to increase police numbers on the front line.

"When we took office, turning around declining police numbers was our number one priority. Once we achieve our goal of an extra 1800 Police officers later this year we will ensure numbers don't fall away again by maintaining an ongoing ratio of one police officer to every 480 New Zealanders," she said.

"Under National, we saw police numbers fall away as new officers weren't hired when police retired. And when we came into office that ratio was standing at one police officer for every 548 Kiwis."

But Mark Mitchell, the National Party's police spokesperson, said that more police numbers won't mean there will be tougher consequences for offenders.

"Since Labour came into Government, gang numbers are up 40 percent, violent crime is up 21 percent and Police response times have blown out, with victims waiting almost two hours for Police to arrive," he said.

"This is all despite Labour announcing more money for Police over the same period, proving that more money doesn't mean there will be serious consequences for offenders or better support for victims.

"Until Labour gets real about crime and starts sending the message from the top that gangs and the misery they peddle are not welcome in New Zealand, Kiwis shouldn't expect much to change."

Mitchell said offenders feel emboldened to go out and commit a crime when the message from the top is there won't be consequences.

"Ram raids are now occurring almost daily and we've got dairy owners staying awake all night in fear that they're going to be hit next, some for the second or third time," he said.

"Our Police are out there every day working incredibly hard to keep Kiwis safe but are not being backed by this soft-on-crime Labour Government. They're working with one hand tied behind their backs."

Mark Mitchell.
Mark Mitchell. Photo credit: Parliament TV

A Newshub-Reid Research poll released on Thursday found that Kiwis are concerned about Williams not cracking down on crime. 

Asked if the current Police Minister is too soft on crime, 68.3 percent said yes while just 18.3 percent said no. Williams said she didn't think it was fair, adding you can be soft, a thug, or smart when it comes to tackling crime, and she's choosing to be smart.

Mitchell said that if he was the Police Minister, the "simple" measure he'd set himself would be whether or not he'd made New Zealand safer, including the police.

"It is clear now that this Minister has presided over worsening public and police safety and is completely out of touch with her portfolio. More money won't change that."

The ACT Party also came out swinging at the Government's announcement and said their promise of more cops on the beat is to cover that it's "failing to meet its last promise".

Its police spokesperson Chris Baillie said that Labour hasn't delivered on its 2017 promise to deliver 1800 new police officers.

"With exploding crime, it's scrambling to make new promises so people forget about the old ones," he said.

"Government Ministers can't even agree on how many new cops have been recruited. The Police Minister says, 'We have put 1400 extra cops on the beat'. The Prime Minister declared 1800 new police officers had been 'promised and delivered'. That claim was subsequently shot down by Poto Williams. The Police Association says just 1273 have been recruited."

Baillie said crime on New Zealand's streets has exploded and gangs "are recruiting faster than Police".

"There are reports of gang crime and shootings most days and people do not feel safe in our communities. The Government needs to sort out its priorities and start focusing on the safety of the public and police officers," he said.

"As a former police officer, I look at the increasing dangers that Police are facing and worry for them. Gangs are recruiting much faster than the Police."

He added that ACT would introduce gang control orders to crack down on gang members. This would allow the police to apply to the courts for an injunction against a person on the National Gang List, which could be used to prohibit bad behaviours including being in a particular location or associating with particular people. It could also be used to require positive actions, like attending rehabilitation.

"We would also implement a standard annual increase in the Police staffing budget in line with population growth. This would provide a steady increase in funding for police recruitment over time to meet population needs and ensure that Police numbers increase as they are needed, instead of leaving it to hollow political promises," Baillie said.

"Police need to feel like the Government supports them. Right now, it doesn't."

The Government's $600m package announced on Sunday will target seven areas:

  • Deliver "largest police force ever"
  • Set aside extra funding to grow the police force to match population growth
  • An additional $94 million into tackling gangs and organised crime
  • Funding to support businesses to protect themselves from ram raiders
  • Targeting gun crime with the establishment of new firearms unit within the police
  • Increase the safety of frontline police with the nationwide rollout of the tactical response model with the training of more police officers to armed offenders squad standard
  • Breaking the cycle of crime with $198.3 million investment in programmes that break the cycle of offending and funding for 518 extra Corrections staff to support rehabilitation.

Williams said in the announcement that the Government was investing $94 million into tackling gangs and organised crime while working with communities to address the social factors that lead to people joining gangs in the first place.

"This will have a strong focus on enforcing the law while also preventing the harms caused by gangs and organised crime."