Nationals new tough on crime campaign uses bad data, cherry-picked stats and attacks a justice scheme Judith Collins helped set up

A new social media campaign by the National Party on law and order has criticised a strategy aimed at curbing crime that was set up when Judith Collins was a Cabinet minister overseeing it.

The criticism is based on linking Labour Party policies to a quote from police stating “arrest is now the exception” that fails to explain the comment was made in relation to some low-level offending that goes before iwi community panels.

It is just one of a number of issues highlighted with the new National Party push into law and order policy, an area which has often seen public concern stoked in the hope of votes.

The panels were launched in 2010 by police and the Ministry of Justice as a way to relieve pressure on courts while providing a circuit-breaker to stop minor offending leading to more serious crime.

Collins, the National Party leader whose image fronts the social media campaign, was Minister of Police in 2010, then Minister of Justice in 2014, when her officials began an evaluation of the programme.

The evaluation was reported back in 2016, when Collins was again Minister of Police, and has since been rolled out across the country.

The National Party social media post this week said “Labour needs to be clear about its intentions with the justice system”.

It said: “Labour’s policies are recruiting more gang members than police, more victims than prisoners, and the police have said ‘arrest is now the exception’.”

The “arrest is now the exception” quote was tracked by the Herald to comments made by police Inspector Phil Taikato during an address to a Rotorua Lakes Council meeting.

In the meeting, he was asked about approaches to family violence and criminal offending by young people.

Responding to a question, Taikato said “in regard to your comment around our youth, here in Rotorua, in police, what we have agreed on is arrest is the exception, supported resolutions is the norm”.

“What I mean by that is we have iwi panels running successfully at the Harangi marae. We run them once a week. We’re going to be lifting that up. There is going to be iwi panels for youth, there will be iwi panels for our family harm episodes. We’re leading this in the country.”

At a time when the public is rightly concerned about money to gangs, gun crime and the significant harm that…

The idea of the iwi panels scheme – now called Te Pae Oranga – was to allow Maori and non-Maori offenders who committed selected low-level offences a restorative justice pathway.

It aimed to tackle underlying issues while connecting offenders to education or training programmes, social services, or good behaviour pledges and not leaving them with a criminal record. A 2020 academic review found “iwi panels significantly reduce the harm associated with re-offending”.

Analysis of other areas targeted in National’s social media post – increased victimisation and claims of gang numbers increase – appeared to show selective use of data or a reliance on discredited data.

On gang numbers, this and other social media posts had seen National push the claim gang numbers had increased despite police saying the data could not be used to show actual numbers of gang members.

An interview request to Collins on the claims in the social media campaign resulted in a statement – from her office – attributed to the party’s police spokesman Simeon Brown.

Brown confirmed National used the National Gang List as its data source for claims gang numbers had increased.

He said comments to him from the public and frontline police that “gang violence and gang numbers are increasing” was supported by the 50 per cent increase in numbers on the National Gang List since October 2017.

The list was started in 2016 as an intelligence tool to monitor those in or associated with gangs and had been added to as police awareness grew. The number of people on the list had gone from 5343 in 2016 to 8061 last month.

The growth in numbers largely reflected increasing awareness by police of those with gang links. It also showed – as Commissioner Andrew Coster had acknowledged – how difficult it was to be removed from the list when an association with a gang ended, including through death.

On victimisations, Brown provided data showing serious assault resulting in injury had doubled under the current government from 10,679 in 2017 to 21,344 in 2020.

It was an increase police had previously linked to new family violence offences introduced in December 2018 that “resulted in police recognising and recording these more serious offences”.

“It has also resulted in the realignment of some domestic common assaults into these new offences.”

The new offences came in under the Family Violence Act which was originally introduced to Parliament under the National government as the Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill.

Data shows the number of incidents in which people have been affected by crime to be stable around 265,000 victimisation.

On the iwi panels, Brown said National “fully support alternative resolution programmes” to deal with low-level offending in some cases.

“We are against the current direction the Government has taken with the inclusion of serious offences such as assaulting a police officer and firearm offences being included as referable offences to Te Pae Oranga.”

Police have told the Herald Te Pae Oranga was for crimes with a maximum sentence of six months in prison – excluding assaults on police – and must not include firearms offences. However, it was possible to get an exemption for some cases outside those criteria, the Herald was told.

A police spokeswoman said: “That’s because it can be a good option for people who have made a mistake, find themselves in difficulty and need help to deal with their underlying issues.”

Victoria University criminologist Dr Liam Martin said the campaign showed the National Party was attempting to leverage votes out of concern over law and order.

He said the use of the gang data was “ridiculous”. “It’s basically established in the public record that you can’t use these statistics in this way – but they are anyway.

“It’s irresponsible for the National Party to be claiming the statistics show an increase in gang numbers.”

Martin said the impact of Collins’ statements could lead to an increase in anxiety and fear in the community and lead to people voting for “tough on crime”-style solutions, which had the feeling of taking positive action but had been shown to fail.

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, an expert on gangs, said membership had increased since 2010 but the gang list was not a measure that could be used.

He said there were “serious methodical issues” with the data, of which Brown was aware.

“National is relying on precisely what got us into this mess in the first place. That is simplistic thinking and an over-reliance on punishment while ignoring rehabilitation and prevention.”

In 2016, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman published research which stated that “the costs of prisons far exceed those justified by the need to protect the public”.

The report found prison numbers were driven by “tough on crime” dogma pushed by politicians and propelled by media and lobby groups “instead of evidence-based approaches to prevention, intervention, imprisonment and rehabilitation”.

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