President's Column: A new approach to organised crime

NZPA - Greg O'Connor | Sun May 1st, 2016

I have written about gangs and organised crime a few times over the years. It’s a bit of a bogeyman topic for the public and media; we know they are bad buggers and that we should be worried about them, but, in reality, unless people live in the end of town where the gangs thrive or someone they know has come into their sphere of intimidation, their only experience of gangs is what they see in the media.

For their part, the outlaw motorcycle gangs, in particular, realise that public boilovers of violence are bad for business, and they’ve have adapted to sort out their issues in private.

They have also engaged in public relations, constantly reassuring the public they are just good old boys who like to have fight clubs and poker runs and give toys to the local hospital. Hollywood and the music industry have helped by glorifying the gangster culture, resulting in a generation who think gangs are cool.

It’s worked. Gangs are well entrenched, and their influence and intimidation are spreading beyond their traditional hunting grounds. The Head Hunters and Hell Angels are applying business models in new “markets” around the country and divvying up the spoils.

Specifically, it involves moving in an advanced guard, identifying key local crime figures and groups, and training them. They are whisked off to Auckland, just like we send people to the Police College. I know this because a relative of an old contact of mine is going through the induction process now. These kids are growing up wanting to be gangsters.

When police show off all the flash gear they seize after a gang bust, that unfortunately triggers aspirations for young people on the cusp, who think that they too could own a flash car if they join up.

The bottom line is that we are losing ground to these gangs and I’m not convinced that our current philosophy is designed to win back the high ground.

It’s mostly about the drug trade, as that’s where the money comes from. From talking to troops around the country, I don’t think anyone believes we are policing P with any consistent vigour.

In many countries, it’s incompetence and corruption that stop that happening, but we are neither of those things, so questions need to be asked as to why we have not been able to shrink the industry.

Lack of political will? A hopeless task? Maybe it’s time for a whole new look at how we disempower and disrupt these groups? Whatever the answer, it’s got to involve hurting their profit margins. And maybe we will need to look for Government policy to do that.

The UN held a conference on the war on drugs recently, but many regard it as an opportunity lost. There is a rising belief internationally that the war is lost and that if we don’t do something soon, we will lose even more ground to multinational gangs who already have better resourcing, arms and leverage than the authorities, and that is the case in New Zealand.

We have some damned good people doing some damned fine work against organised crime here. Only when they start thinking we are winning can we think we are protecting the public. And I don’t think they do.

Perhaps it’s time for a new approach to disrupting organised criminal gangs?

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