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Bid to crackdown on gangs: Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan announce new laws

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The spate of drive-by shootings in Auckland exposed a legal gap which the Government plans to close in a package of new laws tackling gangs

A series of moves have been unveiled to try to combat gangs – including a new crime of firing a gun with intent to intimidate that comes with jail time.

Other changes announced by Police Minister Chris Hipkins and Justice Minister Kiri Allan this morning include:

• Expanding the range of offences where police can seize and impound cars, motorbikes and other vehicles

• Police and other enforcement agencies able to seize cash over $10,000 when found in suspicious circumstances

• Watches, jewellery, precious metals and stones, motor vehicles and boats added to list of high value goods prohibited for sale for cash over a specified value

• Work underway to strengthen sector-wide approach to address youth crime and reduce offending

• New targeted warrant and additional search powers to find and seize weapons from gang members during a gang conflict

The new offence of discharging a gun with intent to intimidate – which comes with a jail term of up to five years – follows a spate of drive-by shootings in Auckland amid a gang feud.

“Recent brazen gang activities have been totally unacceptable and our communities deserve better,” Hipkins said.

“Police asked for legislative changes that will give them more tools to crackdown on violent offending and other criminal activities. We have listened, and will introduce a package of changes that target this activity as an omnibus Amendment Bill as soon as possible.

Hipkins said the Government wants to hit gangs “where it hurts”.

“By taking their guns, cars and motorbikes and making it harder to launder money – while also responding to increasing incidents of intimidation and violence on our roads and streets and in our homes,” Hipkins said.

Hipkins says banning gang patches will not make a lot of difference but there will be further changes announced down the line to combat gang activity.

“This set of measures we’re announcing is not the end of the matter – I expect there will be further announcements in due course.”

Things will not improve “overnight”, Hipkins said.

“We are taking measures that are practical which are going to make a difference, which police have told us will make a difference. But this is not a one-off – this is part of an ongoing program of work.”

Police Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Police Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Allan said that people don’t become gang members overnight and “that the causes are complex and often inter-generational”.

“The changes we are introducing today are targeted interventions that will give New Zealanders confidence that Police have the required powers to tackle gang behaviours that make people feel unsafe, and that they are proportionate.

“We will continue to ensure we are upping the ante on intervention and prevention measures that are focused on steering young people away from a life with organised criminal groups.

“I will be looking closely at the youth justice system in particular to see how we can make changes that will improve both the lives of at-risk young people and public safety over the long term.”

Allan added the Government is “always” looking at whether the policies they are setting are working.

“It’s not the end of the line. We will continue to monitor them.”

On the “loophole” the Government is aiming to close, Allan said while there were penalties for a drive-by shooting, the Government did not consider them to be strong enough.

“Threat to kill carries a max of seven years. Currently under the crimes act if I discharge a firearm in a house, I’m looking at three years. Yes, there are offences that can be pulled up for a drive-by but we don’t consider them sufficient.”

Hipkins says the Government does not want to sweep gang activity under the rug and say “problem solved”.

“Contrary to what the National Party says, gang activity matters whether you see it or not – we want to drive that gang activity out of the community.”

At least 23 houses had been targeted in drive-by shootings in the space of a fortnight. Hipkins conceded that gang tensions had deteriorated in the past 18 months and the Government needed to do more to curb the violence.

Briefings given to the Police Minister have since identified a gap in the criminal law in relation to drive-by shootings, or other situations where a firearm is discharged with the intent to intimidate someone.

Under the Crimes Act, it is currently an offence of a “threatening act” to intimidate someone by firing a gun – but only if the person pulling the trigger is inside the same dwelling as the victim.

However, it is not a “threatening act” for someone to discharge a firearm on a street or other public place in an attempt to intimidate – such as a drive-by shooting – according to the advice given to Hipkins.

The Government plans to close the loophole by amending the “threatening act” offence to cover all situations where a firearm is discharged with the intent to intimidate.

The proposed new law announced this morning is part of a package of legislative reform which aims to give police more tools to tackle gangs.

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