PM Jacinda Ardern says soft on crime claims 'just wrong' as former detective hails NZ Police's international reputation

The Prime Minister is defending the Government's response to crime after a recent poll found the majority of Kiwis think the Police Minister's approach is too soft. 

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found most Kiwis think Poto Williams isn't harsh enough. 

The poll asked: Is the current Police Minister too soft on crime? More than two-thirds - 68.3 percent - said yes, while just 18.3 percent said no. 

It's a view shared by the Opposition, with National Party Police spokesperson Mark Mitchell saying the poll shows Kiwis have lost confidence in the Government. 

"I think the result of your poll clearly shows that the public has lost confidence in this Government," he told Newshub. "They are soft on crime."

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a former detective disagree. 

Speaking with AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green, Jacinda Ardern said accusations from the Opposition and others the Government is soft on crime are unfair. 

"Let's just look at the bare facts. None of the penalties, none of the consequences for these crimes have changed. So this idea that somehow there is this weakening is just wrong," Ardern told AM on Monday. 

"In fact what you've got to consider is that what we are doing differently is not just dealing with the consequences, if you offend in this country you must be held to account. 

"So that's what Operation Tauwhiro and Operation Cobalt. They're all about an approach that is really focused on cracking down on organised crime and some of the reason you see that focus is because we've invested in additional police, including an extra 700 to work on those areas. We've seen over 1000 arrests, forfeiture of assets and so on.    

"At the same time, we also need to prevent people from entering organised crime in the first place so you have to do both." 

It is a sentiment shared by Australian-based police lecturer and former detective Michael Kennedy, who told AM on Monday that New Zealand's approach to policing is right. 

"New Zealand has got an excellent reputation worldwide in terms of its policing. It doesn't overreact, there are no knee jerk responses, they're usually really responsible and New Zealand, generally speaking, has a good reputation within the criminal justice area of dealing with people."

Kennedy said internationally nobody considers New Zealand as being soft on crime. 

"It seems to me New Zealand beats itself up a little bit but you're doing a really good job over there," he said. "I don't think anyone considers you a soft touch, I think there's a big balance here in social justice. 

"We've moved in the last few years where everyone talks about the victims but social justice is about victims, it's about witnesses and it's about ensuring people get a fair trial… And New Zealand has got the right formula there."

It comes after the Government announced on Sunday a $600 million package aimed at addressing the spate of crimes currently ripping through New Zealand. The Government said it will see an increase in police numbers, nearly $100m to tackle gang violence and an extension to rehabilitation programmes. 

More than $562m over four years will be invested in the police, the Government said.

Police are also planning to launch a dedicated operation across Auckland, with smaller teams across Aotearoa, to tackle growing gang violence and intimidating behaviour. It's been dubbed 'Operation Cobalt' and will begin in June. 

That follows Operation Tauwhiro, which was extended by six months late last year. Operation Tauwhiro focussed on disrupting firearms-related violence by gangs.