Police Minister Poto Williams disputes 'very strongly' Govt is soft on crime as ram raids ramp up in Auckland

Police Minister Poto Williams has "very strongly" disputed that the Government is too soft on crime despite the prevalence of ram raids and robberies ramping up, particularly in Auckland.

Forty ram raids have been recorded in the last month, with perpetrators targeting the likes of dairies, service stations, retailers and luxury fashion boutiques, with Gucci and Louis Vuitton ram-raided by a stolen vehicle in downtown Auckland in April. 

The spate of break-ins and robberies has intensified public calls for the police to crack down on criminal activity. According to a recent Newshub Redress Research poll, 68 percent of Kiwis believe that Labour isn't putting enough effort into tackling crime. However, child welfare advocates have argued that a more forceful response won't put an end to the crime wave, with the majority of the recent ram raids carried out by young people.

Appearing on Newshub Nation on Saturday morning, Williams strongly disputed claims that Labour is "too soft" on crime, pointing to the $562 million that will be allocated to combating crime. Last Sunday, the Government made a pre-Budget announcement and revealed that the package will be used to funnel extra funding into the police, as well as tackle gang violence. It will see an increase in police numbers, and extend rehabilitation programmes to break the cycle of offending. The nearly $600 million will be invested over four years.

"You know, I have just delivered for police a budget of $562 million. That takes a lot of negotiation and effort and work. And it means that we believe as a Government, the police need the resources to do the hard mahi which is in front of them," Williams told Newshub Nation co-host Oriini Kaipara.

When pressed again if she agreed with the sentiment that Labour is too soft on crime, Williams argued the number of police patrolling the streets has increased by 16 percent - which makes New Zealanders "feel safer".

"I would dispute that and I would dispute that very strongly," she said. "Because in terms of what I am delivering as Police Minister… you know, record budgets. $450 million was the budget under the previous Police Minister and Labour, and now I've delivered a budget of $562 million to really counter what we're seeing in front of us."

However, none of that money has been channelled towards combating the increase in ram raids, despite the crime wave beginning months ago. Williams argued the timing was off, with the Budget prepared "months ahead of time".

"We are out of the budget cycle currently, as you know, with the budgets they prepared months ahead of time. This spike is one that is happening right now and we have been able to access the Proceeds of Crime Fund."

The minister also pointed to an ongoing police operation in the Waikato, a region that has also been plagued by a spate of ram raids in recent months. To date, Williams said 110 arrests have been made. "The police have been active in this space. What is happening now is we have to deal with the problem that our retailers are telling us. We want our small businesses to be able to operate safely," she said.

"We have been active… What we haven't done [is support] retailers to protect their businesses, and they've had a tough time. It's been tough for them."

While Williams confirmed she is speaking with Retail New Zealand, she acknowledged she has not personally visited or spoken to dairy owners affected by the raids.

"Would that change anything for you, though? Meeting those people face to face and having those conversations, seeing the results of ram raids?" Kaipara pressed.

"Absolutely. I want to be able to support them in a way that's meaningful for them," Williams said.

The minister added that communities have a "real role" to play in combating the crime wave, noting that tamariki and young people need to be supported "to thrive so that they're not engaged in criminal activity".

"In order for us to kind of get ahead of this, we need to deal with the drivers. That's a piece of work that we will have a couple of ministers co-lead."

Addressing the rollout of tactical response teams across the country, Williams said she is comfortable with police being equipped with firearms, despite previous plans to introduce armed response teams (ARTs) being scrapped. Concerns have also been raised over the years over armed police disproportionately targeting Māori. 

But Williams argued that police "need firearms to do their job".

"They need to have firearms to do their work. They are operating in a very dynamic environment. Gangs and organised crime are much more overt and sophisticated," she said.

"The difference [between tactical teams and ARTs) is… very big. [Armed officers] won't be walking around. They will be deployed using the best intelligence possible for the most significant events. They will be armed, but they will be trying to [use them].

"TThis is not an armed response. This is a tactical response to keep police safe and to send the best trained people into the most significant situations."

She added that police are "very clear" that they need to develop a "better response" to Māori, including making sure the force "reflect and look like the communities they serve".

Regarding the Government's pledge in 2020 to recruit an additional 1800 police officers for New Zealand's force, Williams said they are on-track with roughly one officer for every 480 people.

"We're up to about 1400 and we'll reach 1800 by the end of the year. That's six months ahead of target. 

"We know that more police, more visibility means people feel safer, and we need people and the police to do the mahi."

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