Crime and Police priorities
Several titillating newspaper columns have recently been devoted to bail
rules, rising prisoner numbers, gaols, and the lack of criminal
rehabilitation: "I'm not reformed!" boasts Lily-Bing's killer. Special
pleaders push pet theories. However, no journalist seems game to tackle the
cause of the growing problems faced by the Police, the justice system, and
the wider community that relies on their protection. Why do gangs fight
openly in suburban streets and small towns? Why do the Police fail to follow
up on most burglaries or smash and grab raids? Why do calls by gas stations
with the registration numbers of cars stealing expensive petrol get no
Police response? Why do many ordinary people feel they have no option but
to take the law into their own hands?
The answer to these questions is that there is no political, journalistic or
Police willpower to explore such uncomfortable issues. Journalists these
days are captives of the fatal fallacy that societies, not individuals,
cause crime. They think it politically incorrect to question minority
cultural practices that invariably produce young offenders. Politicians are
scared of offending the Police who, when stirred, can become a potent force
during elections. Neither National nor Labour seems ready to tackle the huge
crime sub-culture that is chewing away at core social and community values
in this country like a tumour within. I hasten to say that New Zealand isn't
alone in this regard. I read recently of a constable in Bournemouth,
England, writing to shop keepers telling them not to bother reporting
shoplifting crimes involving goods valued at less than £75 ($185). Turn a
blind eye and invariably the crime sub-culture expands.
It's odd that many folk seem so little concerned at this erosion of the
values that hold communities together, especially since the cause of so much
anti-social behaviour stares them in the face. Take gangs, for example. They
had their origin in the early 1970s and resulted mostly from excessive
numbers of Maori and Pacific Island children suddenly finding themselves in
a confined urban environment. Household over-crowding and schools unable to
cope with the rapid influx created street kids. But it took inadequate
parental care to turn this into crime. They fecklessly failed to deal with
truancy. Burglaries provided street kids with money and excitement. The
mushrooming beneficiary culture of the seventies boosted their numbers;
gangs matured and were soon involved in organised crime. Drugs followed. The
problem tracks back to surplus kids and irresponsible parents. Britain and
France are also experiencing minority cultures over-breeding while refusing
to acculturate into societies that have given them a second chance. All
governments seem too scared to face up to basic problems.
Rapid social changes over thirty years caught the Police flatfooted. In most
countries they have been under-resourced, and priorities inadequately
directed. Burglaries, shop-lifting and graffiti flourish because they aren't
prosecuted. The old nostrum that we need more community constables is no
longer enough. Meanwhile the cops concentrate on catching speedsters, often
for trivial infringements. Our new Police Minister, Annette King, has
announced a review of the Police Act. Good. And there'll soon be a new
Police Commissioner too. Wonderful opportunity for top-to-toe reviews of
Police priorities and effectiveness. Let's investigate what was known as the
"broken windows" policy in New York where Police resources were directed
towards catching first offenders and nipping careers of crime in the bud.
The greatest deterrent has always been the likelihood of getting caught.
Some commentators question the effectiveness of "zero tolerance", preferring
alternative schemes in other cities. All need examination. However, it isn't
clear from Ms King's announcement whether radical Police re-prioritisation
is a possibility. Sadly, National has had little to say.
Let's be clear. Coming to grips with crime is a world-wide challenge. First,
it involves holding individuals accountable for their actions. Reminding
parents about how many offspring they can care for is fundamental. Parents
must answer for the anti-social activities of unsupervised children.
Providing options for young offenders is central to crime busting, too. It
could well be that schemes like the Civilian Conservation Corps introduced
by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression, where the army
helped train young men, could inculcate the life skills and discipline that
so many parents (and social workers) have conspicuously failed to do.
Labour's Norman Kirk talked about this, and it was discussed again in the
1980s. Some Maori have advocated similar strategies. Let's put everything up
for discussion, then do something, before we are overwhelmed.