01 November 2007
SPEECH: To the Police Association National Conference
Speech to the Police Association National Conference
I am privileged to be addressing a group of men and women who are dedicated to promoting the security of New Zealanders, their families and their communities.
That is an honourable mission and your service of it too often goes unthanked.
Despite the best efforts of New Zealand police men and women, the size of the violent criminal threat is as big and intimidating as ever.
Last year, on average, six Kiwi police officers were assaulted every day. That number is higher than at any time in New Zealand's history.
Weapons, such as firearms or guns, were used in 88 of those assaults. That is a sad indictment on the state of our society and a chilling reminder that the fight against crime is far from over.
Some 11,000 more violent offences occurred last year than in 1999. A violent offence, such as a grievous assault or robbery, now occurs every 10 minutes. There's a sexual attack every four hours and a robbery every three and a half hours.
The size of the criminal threat is measurable not only by crime statistics, but by the widespread fears of everyday Kiwis. Kiwis fear that ours is not a safe society.
They fear that their personal security is at risk: Children being beaten to death by their parents. Paroled offenders murdering innocent citizens. Gang shootings. P-induced frenzied attacks on innocent citizens. Youth gangs intimidating communities. These things strike worry into the hearts of all New Zealanders.
As police officers, you do your best to alleviate this worry. But in the end your response can only ever be as effective as your Government-given mandate will allow.
Today I want to talk to you about the mandate a National Government will bring to the law and order table.
Let me start by saying that improved security is central to my vision for a better New Zealand. I want Kiwis and their families to feel safer in their homes, their streets, and their neighbourhoods. I am 100% committed to reducing crime and 100% committed to law and order policies that further that goal.
In recent months, my Justice and Corrections spokesman, Simon Power, has put extensive work into developing those policies. He has consulted widely with sector groups, with experts, and with everyday New Zealanders.
With Simon's guidance, National has put together a comprehensive and inter-locking set of policies that will improve New Zealand's methods for dealing with the effects of crime, and at preventing crime from occurring in the first place.
I will release these policies one by one over the coming months in the lead-up to the next election.
I will announce new policies for youth justice; for enhancing the rights of victims; new sentencing policies for the worst offenders; new policies for rehabilitating offenders; and new policies for improving the management of our prisons and our courts.
Today I will announce our first set of law and order policies, and those that have the most direct relevance to you, as enforcers and upholders of New Zealand law – our policing policies.
In making these announcements I want to thank National's Police Spokesman, Chester Borrows. Chester's experience as a police officer of more than 20 years' experience has been invaluable in helping us develop practical policies that will help you fight crime.
I'm going to talk about those policies in three main categories: the police toolkit of resources and powers; the assistance we can give you to clamp down on gangs; and our police recruitment policies.
Upgrading your toolkit
National is committed to ensuring police have the tools they need to protect the public.
No one would expect a mechanic to fix a 2007 model car with a set of tools from the seventies. Neither should we expect our modern police officers to fight 21st century crime with outdated equipment, laws and powers.
The contents of the police toolkit need to be upgraded in line with changing crime patterns and growing public expectations. To that end, National has identified three aspects of your kit that are due for immediate upgrade.
First, we think you need an improved means of protecting yourselves and the public from dangerous, violent offenders.
Increasingly, police are confronted with out-of-control offenders, high on drugs and unaware of their surroundings, who are near impossible to stop.
We think police need another non-lethal means for dealing with these offenders.
Tasers are the obvious answer.
The recent trial showed that in most cases where a Taser was drawn, the offender was 'laser painted'. Though drawn 120 times, Tasers were discharged only 19 times throughout the trial
Tasers have been shown to be an effective tool for deterring offenders who would have gone on to harm the public, and for allowing police officers to do their jobs safely. Those are goals that National enthusiastically signs up to.
So today I'm pleased to announce that National will introduce Tasers, subject to a positive evaluation of the trial.
We're also keen to ensure your toolkit makes the most of modern crime-solving technology.
DNA is one such technology. It is the 21st century fingerprint. It's time to increase the range of situations in which we use it.
National's rationale for this is simple: if we catch and punish criminals earlier, we prevent them from creating more victims.
DNA profiling is a highly effective tool for identifying and catching criminals. On the flipside, it is also an invaluable tool for exonerating the innocent.
Currently, DNA samples can be taken only with a suspect's consent, or where people are suspected of an offence punishable by more than seven years imprisonment.
That requirement precludes DNA samples being taken from those suspected of a wide ranges of significant offences, such as assault with a weapon. And it requires police officers to go through the complex process of applying to the High Court for leave to take a DNA sample where consent is not obtained.
National thinks DNA samples should be taken in a wider range of circumstances.
So, we will require DNA samples to be taken from all those arrested for offences punishable by a term of imprisonment.
As is the case with fingerprints and photos, we would require DNA records to be destroyed where charges are dropped or where suspects are found not guilty.
Thirdly, we want to ensure that police are able to urgently intervene to protect vulnerable Kiwis from becoming crime victims.
Police are frequently called to domestic situations where it is blindingly clear that a mother or her children are under serious threat from an abusive and violent partner.
In these situations, police are often unable to act on their instinct to urgently protect these victims. Instead, victims, often battered women, are expected to apply to the courts for a protection order.
The number of applications for protection orders has declined by 26% over the past six years despite no evidence that family violence is decreasing.
Not surprisingly, many victims simply don't apply to the court for a protection order, either because of the associated delays and costs or a fear of the repercussions. The result is further victimisation.
National thinks victims and police need access to more immediate means for dismantling these domestic time bombs. Victims' safety should not be put at risk by administrative delays.
National wants police to take family violence seriously so we're going to give you serious tools for stopping it.
National will empower police with the ability to issue time-bound on-the-spot protection orders.
These will provide police with an immediate response to dangerous domestic situations, and will ensure potential victims are protected until courts are able to fully deal with the matter.
Taken together, National thinks these three policies: introducing Tasers, increased use of DNA sampling, and allowing police to issue on-the-spot protection orders, will greatly improve the police toolkit.
We are also keen to address police concerns with recent changes to the bail system.
Earlier this year, Labour changed the Bail Act to make it easier for accused people to get bail and harder for police to keep them behind bars.
The Crown now has to prove that a defendant is at "real and substantial risk" of reoffending or absconding, even if they've repeatedly broken their bail conditions in the past. This lowering of the bar has needlessly increased the threat to public safety and has made your job more difficult. There is no sound rationale for it.
National proposes reinstating the position for determining bail as it was prior to the 2007 amendment to the Bail Act.
Clamping down on Gangs
I now want to turn my attention to what National views as a pivotal battle in the fight against crime – the battle against gangs.
National will make criminal gangs a key target in our fight against crime. It's a battle where we think the police deserve better legislative backing than they're getting.
Don't look to us for hand-wringing about the importance of the so-called social bonds on offer through criminal gangs. National will pass laws that remove the legitimacy, power, and status of gangs.
My Justice and Corrections Spokesman Simon Power has previously outlined four things we will add to your arsenal.
Let me go over these today.
One, we will amend the Crimes Act to ensure it reflects our policy that membership of a criminal gang is a criminal offence in and of itself. We will strengthen the provisions of the law that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation.
Two, we will amend the Crimes Act to make it easier for police to conduct surveillance on and listen in on gang communications.
Three, we will amend the Local Government Act to give police increased power to remove and storm gang fortifications.
And four, we will make sure criminals with gang memberships are subject to harsher sentences than their non-gang member counterparts. We will amend the Sentencing Act to make gang membership an aggravating factor in sentencing.
Those four steps are just the beginning of the battle National will wage against gangs.
We're also keen to investigate other means for undermining gang power, where changes can be made consistent with other laws.
I think Government legal-eagles should be asked to provide answers to the two questions Kiwis often ask me: Why shouldn't we ban gang patches? And why, under any circumstances, do we allow paroled criminals to hang out with gang members? Why aren't all paroled criminals banned from associating with gangs?
National is investigating these issues and will search for practical ways through the legal hoops.
I'm aware the answers to these questions will involve a balancing of concerns, but today let me be clear. Individual rights must at some point give way to our collective right as a society to have peace and safety in our communities.
My Government will search out all legal and practicable means available for making it much, much tougher to be a member of a criminal gang in this country.
Police numbers and priorities
Finally, let me assure you that National's backing of the police will be reflected in our police recruitment policies.
As a general principal, we believe that more police in proportion to the population reduces crime. So we want more police on the beat!
We will conclude and see through the current campaign, begun in 2006, to recruit an additional 1,000 sworn police and an additional 250 non-sworn police by mid 2009.
We believe that the bulk of the additional sworn officers should be deployed to pro-active policing to make our streets safer and prevent crime.
I was concerned that of the 353 new officers deployed in the past financial year, 38 were assigned to road policing, 25 were assigned to recruitment duties, a further nine were made analysts, and three were deployed overseas. I am also committed to ensuring this campaign does not lead to a decline in recruitment standards.
Further, National is determined to retain experienced officers in the job. In recent years experienced officers have been over-represented among those leaving the job. Greater efforts need to be made to retain these officers.
In the long-term we would like to see any increases in the number of police being based on population ratios rather than just raw numbers. Police numbers must be increased as the population increases.
As it is, there is one sworn police officer in New Zealand for every 530 people, a ratio that has remained relatively stable since the early 1990s. Australia has a ratio of 1 officer to every 445 citizens.
The 1,000 extra police will bring New Zealand's ratio down to 1 officer for every 504 people. This is still a long way off the Labour and New Zealand First agreed objective of achieving Australian-level ratios by 2010.
National will continue to increase police numbers in real terms over time to try to progressively improve the ratio of police to population beyond 1:500 from 2009. The only way for police numbers to go is up.
Backing the Police
Our main message on policing is simple. You are New Zealand's best resource for preventing and fighting crime and you will always have National's backing.
Your ability to do your job relies on the goodwill and trust of individual New Zealanders. And, overwhelmingly, Kiwis are prepared to give you the backing you deserve.
I do not intend to go into the specifics of security matters and issues before the courts, but I do think it would be remiss not to talk about the public reaction to the police raids conducted throughout the country earlier this month.
The huge publicity they generated has, I think, reminded New Zealanders just how much faith we put in the police to exercise their discretion carefully and enforce our laws with integrity.
I'm sure the reverberations from this publicity are affecting you in your daily work. You should take some heart from the knowledge that most Kiwis are fair-minded and will withhold final judgment on these matters until all the facts are on the table.
I have confidence that the overwhelming majority of police officers apply their discretion with integrity and sound judgment. Year after year, you are ranked highly in the most trusted professions lists. And, if you don't think that means much, try being a politician!
National wants to promote confidence in the police. As such, we, like you, want to see progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the Bazley Report.
We will also continue to take a strong interest in the progress of the Police Act review to ensure you have the legislative powers, controls, and obligations needed to match public expectations into the future.
We're committed to working alongside you to ensure that the confidence we have in you is shared by other New Zealanders.
Before I finish I want to sound a warning against giving in to crime.
We can and we must do better at reducing crime levels and keeping Kiwis safer. There are so many good ideas waiting to be put into action.
Today I am making this commitment to you: If I am given the privilege of leading this country I will never bow down to the scourge of crime. I will not allow a mood of resignation and denial to creep into our state agencies, into the minds of officials, into the heart of government. Because, when our leaders give in to crime, our society pays the price.
The National Party is convinced we can do better at putting in place the laws and policies needed to front-up to criminality in our society. We can provide New Zealanders with the security they have a right to expect.
National's intended investment in the New Zealand Police is a crucial part of our strategy for winning the fight on crime.
We will give you the powers, we will give you the mandate and we will give you the toolkit. We will back you in the fight against crime.Tweet