Advice to the Mayor of Whananaki

I felt compelled to respond to Shane Jones – This mob mentality needs a short, sharp shock NZ Herald June 20th. I respect Shane Jones as a person of intellect and as an effective political operator. When in Government he made a good Minister. In his Ministerial office he would dispense with the sometimes-buffoonish caricature he assumes. He would listen to his advisors. He would be firm. He would take calculated risks. He reminded me much of the Ministerial style of Jim Anderton, another person I admired.

Despite the reality that I’ll be seen as predictably ‘banging on’ I thought I’d have a go at bringing some reason to the korero Shane Jones advances. In social practice we call it the role of the ‘critical friend’. The process is that the ‘friend’ feeds back the korero as they have received it and then provides a critique or recommendations.

In his article Shane spells out an implicit NZ First gang policy. It is predicated on the belief that, in a perceived current breakdown of law and order, there is a new generation of gang member who does not fear the law. They are “young yelping pups,” who have set out through ram raids, truancy, and gang violence to destroy our “national qualities of industry, blood, sweat and tears.

Moreover, these young people are “crypto fascists”. I don’t quite get the crypto-fascist bit because that generally means people who keep their admiration for fascist ideology on the down-low. I do however admit that gang insignia bearing the swastika is a bit confusing.

Shane proposes that the Police have become captured by the ‘woke’ mania of tribalism and Tiriti victimology. I’ve always assumed that ‘woke’ is a verb referring to some past tense of being awake. Being awake to what’s going on would seem to me to be a good thing. I’m wrong. Woke is an adjective. It describes being aware and attentive to societal factors and issues. Again, I consider that’s a good thing especially when honouring, Te Tiriti, the agreement that binds us as a nation. In terms of perceived Maori privilege Shane acknowledges that Maori are 42 per cent of all criminal apprehensions. Furthermore, he tells us that nigh on half of the male inmate population are “The nephs, the ones who need reprogramming, numeracy, and literacy, not just tribal proverbs.” Amen to that.  Corrections ‘Te Ara Poutama Aotearoa’ are useless in the rehabilitation space.  As Shane Jones rightly says the name thing does not matter as much as the quality of a thing. Nomenclature does not lead to superior outcomes. True brother, true.

Shane Jones says the current administration is unwilling to bring the hammer down on crime. Shane says the axe needs to be swung, the Police significantly ‘rebooted’ and bolstered, and in a canine fashion, ‘let off the leash’ so they can take robust action. I think the 856 arrests and seizure of drugs and firearms during ‘Operation Tauwhiro’, the hundreds arrested for ram raids, the application of new policing powers that had been requested to deal with inter-gang conflict, and last week’s efforts in Operation Pakari in the South Island, demonstrate that the Police are currently very robust. What would a reboot look like?

Shane favours making gang membership an aggravating factor in offending and tilting sentencing guidelines “in favour of community safety rather than defendant mitigation”.

Implicitly he anticipates imprisonment. He understands that imprisonment does not guarantee rehabilitation – indeed, on the contrary we have a 60% rate of recidivism and prison is the major recruitment channel for gangs. Shane suggests the trade-off is that whilst an individual is incarcerated it does spare the community from “further intimidation and violence”.

Considering the factors of gang recruitment and recidivism, does increasing the prison population seem the best way forward to build community resilience leading to community safety?

Shane Jones is perceptive. He understands that “Deterrence is both an invisible boundary and a linkage. It supports the soft infrastructure underlying a community”. Yes. Yes. If Shane understands that then it seems illogical to me, in reference to the Mayor of Opotiki’s calm rational response to the political and media storm visited upon his community during a citizen’s tangi, that he would describe the Mayor’s efforts as “odious and misguided”. To my observations the Mayor was clearly demonstrating his understanding of the complexities of the ‘soft infrastructure’ of Opitiki and the relationships that maintain coherence and resilience of that community.

Flip the script. If in power, and the same occurrence as Opotiki was in the North, how well would Shane and matua Winston manage things? It may not go so well. Here’s why.

Shane reckons a gang member is effectively a domestic terrorist. NZ First Policy is that ‘The Terrorism Suppression Act’ would be amended, and a patched gang member declared a terrorist, and would thus forfeit the rights of citizenship.

Well, if you want to breed terrorism there’s foreign players willing to help. We are already under surely under attack through misinformation and disinformation. We also face a form of chemical warfare. Whilst gang numbers may have doubled in the last year the amount of methamphetamine intercepted at our borders has increased by 4,000%. Say it again? 4,000%.

To my observation that’s the pivot point of our trouble.

If I was advising a community leader, say the Mayor of Whananaki, in response a call for a rational (rather than National) way forward in dealing with gangs at a community level I would suggest a strategy based on the ideas of counter-terrorism expert Peter Lentini[1]:

Lentini would advise: Avoid the temptation to politicize the gang issue, and to offer ‘silver bullet’ solutions through piecemeal legislation; Don’t deal with public fear, by promoting public fear — take a rational long-term approach to the issue; Seek to understand issues of causation — and address them; Understand that while some gang members are dangerous criminals, not all members of gang families are criminals, or condone criminal behaviour; Absolutely engage with pro social leaders within gangs.

And to my reading Lentini’s suggested response framework seems to me to be like that currently being pursued by the NZ Police.

Short term
• Focus on intelligence gathering;
• Target serious criminal activity
• Incarcerate key leaders in criminal activity
• Develop contingency plans for dealing with crisis events
• Provide targeted prevention activities – reducing recruitment, promoting positive community based programmes in impoverished communities;

Long Term Goals:
• Ongoing dialogue to Increase Trust and Reduce Tension;
• Deploying reformed gang members in mediating with existing gang leaders, and implementing offender rehabilitation programmes
• Providing support for imprisoned gang members and their families

Yes. The NZ Police are awake alright.  But its not just up to them, we are all in this together. Lets not be torn apart and divided for political purposes. Tihei whanaungatanga.

Nga mihi

Denis O’Reilly M Soc P
21st June 2023


[1] Dr Pete Lentini, convener of the Global Terrorism Research Unit at Monash. Lentini suggests a mix of short-term and long-term approaches (Lentini, P. 2008, ‘Understanding and combating terrorism: Definitions, origins and strategies’. Australian Journal of Political Sciences).

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