National’s tough on crime rhetoric | The Jackal

5 Aug 2014

National’s tough on crime rhetoric

It's obligatory in election year for various right wing political parties to get tough on crime. This type of electioneering is nothing new and often follows a single incident that gains widespread public attention whereby politicians try to address New Zealand's high offending rates by proposing an increase in punitive measures such as harsher sentences.

Sometimes politicians lose all objectivity in their crusade to win votes, with the inevitable consequence being badly devised laws that do nothing at all to reduce offending.  More often than not there’s a complete lack of research to show any benefit to the proposed policy changes, with the only benefit being to raise the politicians profile in the hope of winning votes for the party they’re associated with.

That's the best way to summarise National's latest policy announcement: Whole of Government Action Plan on Tackling Gangs.

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

Govt plans to get tough on gangs 
Drug-sniffer beagles could soon be used at domestic airports and ferry terminals as part of a plan to intercept drug shipments and large amounts of cash moved around the country by gangs.

Police Minister Anne Tolley has sought advice on trialling drug dogs in air and maritime ports - including the Cook Strait ferry terminals - to detect shipments of illicit drugs, precursor ingredients, or large bundles of cash.

Perhaps the Police Minister believes drug couriers won't realise there are going to be sniffer dogs at domestic airports and ferry terminals? Clearly this policy isn't going to catch anybody apart from hung-over teenagers.

The minister said the dogs would only target drugs being transported by organised crime groups, and the beagles were trained to accurately sniff out more than $10,000 in cash, not single notes in a wallet.

Despite what the Minister claims, it will of course cause a large amount of inconvenience to anybody who uses cash. Sniffer dogs aren't able to differentiate between $100 cash and $10,000. They are trained to identify small odors, the strength of which will be determined by how the money is packaged.

Obviously sniffer dogs won’t only target drugs being transported by organised crime groups either, because a drug dog cannot tell if somebody is a gang member.

"The idea of this wouldn't be to catch the odd person that has a cannabis joint in their pocket," she said.

"We really want to get the guys at the top who are moving large amounts of drugs around the country."

Causing a huge inconvenience to law abiding citizens by having sniffer dogs at every domestic airport and ferry terminal isn’t going to catch any “guys at the top who are moving large amounts of drugs around the country.” Such a claim just shows how ignorant Anne Tolley is, ignorance that is clearly allowing the drug trade to flourish in New Zealand.

Furthermore, the National led government hasn’t done any budgeting to see if this policy is cost effective. The best they have come up with is funding of around $1.6 million over two years for the Intelligence Centre and an undisclosed sum for the GPS monitoring of 100 more offenders. Anne Tolley claims that; “detailed costing work for the taskforces is currently underway,” but you would expect that any policy National wants the general public to take seriously would already be properly budgeted for.

A lack of any proper costing's isn’t the only problem with National’s get tough on crime rhetoric! They’re also proposing more changes that actually already exist:

As well as more punitive proposals such as 24-hour GPS monitoring of released prisoners, Government wanted to extend rehabilitative policies such as giving gang members greater access to drug and alcohol treatment, education and job-training in prisons.

Here's the Minister of Police, Anne Tolley's Progressing the Sentencing (Electronic Monitoring) Amendment Bill (PDF), which clearly shows numerous reasons why National's proposals are entirely impractical.

Obviously 24-hour GPS monitoring is already available for high-risk offenders and targeting family violence offenders in this way is unlikely to work, because most family violence occurs in the home. Also, being affiliated with a gang shouldn’t automatic mean a person is GPS monitored. It is the offending that should determine the punishment, which is best left up to the courts and the parole board to determine.

If you need further evidence to show that Anne Tolley hasn't got a clue, here's a Radio NZ Checkpoint interview from yesterday:

The other irony here is that National has, over their last six years in power, ensured many drug and alcohol treatment centres have had to close because of a lack of government funding. They seem to think that treatment in prison is better, instead of providing services that might help people to keep out of prison in the first place. You might also recall that National has already announced an increase in rehabilitative services in prisons. They’re simply making the same announcement again in an attempt to gain media attention in the lead up to the September election.

Along with numerous proposed measures that will do nothing at all to reduce offending rates, National will also introduce bans on firearms for serious gang offenders. However there are already laws to prevent gang members from obtaining firearms and penalties for people who supply them. Basically Anne Tolley is announcing laws that already exist, laws that are already being applied.

Reinventing the wheel in election year makes it appear that National is desperately clutching at straws. Pretty soon they’ll start playing the race card as well, and you know where that end game leads…political oblivion!