Enough Already - The Rozzers' Powers Need Curbing

The Police have more than enough laws to fight crime, it's just that they're not using them effectively. The two old parties - National and Labour - can just stop giving them more legislation. When did you ever hear the Rozzers say, "Thank you very much, we have enough power now."?

Justice Clifford's judgment in favour of Hells Angel member Philip Schubert, who sought judicial review overturning Wanganui City Council's bylaw banning gang insignia in public places, is a small blow for freedom of association and expression. (NB, in the judgment, Wanganui is spelled without an 'h', and Hells Angels, like the Teachers Council, jettisons the apostrophe).

The ban, passed under the auspices of the Wanganui Act which also came into criticism from the judge for its definitions of gangs and insignia, was intended to prevent gang intimidation and threatening of the public going about their innocent business. It was also intended to reduce or prevent gang clashes, since flaunting gang patches or clothing supposedly inflames gang rivalry, and hence leads to outbreaks of gang warfare. However, as the judge noted, such activities already are illegal and there are laws to deal with them.

But is there really a problem in Wanganui that needs such heavy-handed treatment? Did Michael Laws blow this out of all proportion with his extraordinary gift for attracting media attention? Just how bad is the gang problem?

Look at this from Justice Clifford. It is a somewhat disturbing piece of information buried in his judgment. A piece of evidence from the police which he draws attention to (my italics).

[124] Overall, the Police reported to the Council that 11 such offences were reported for 2004, 17 for 2005 and 48 for 2006. Appendix A of the Police‘s report to the Council detailed the offending involved.

[125] In his affidavit, Inspector McLeod provided different information. He said that Police records showed that within the Wanganui area over the period 2004 to 2006 there had been 77 gang-related offences recorded in 2004, 82 in 2005 and 191 in 2006. Inspector McLeod did not describe what counted as a gang-related offence. Nor did the submissions I received reconcile the two pieces of information.


[127] Whilst the evidence, in particular the Police response to the Council‘s Official Information Request, confirmed the existence of a problem with gang violence in Wanganui, and of various gang-related incidents, I do not consider that – on the basis of that argument – the Council discharged the onus on it to satisfy me that the Bylaw – in terms of the way in which Council designated its geographic extent – impaired gang members‘ freedom of expression no more than was reasonably necessary for sufficient achievement of its purpose.

[128] Perhaps, in terms of the materials put before the Court, the strongest support for the Council‘s approach came from the wide range of locations in which, as identified by Inspector McLeod, gang-related incidents had occurred. At the same time I note the comment made by Inspector McLeod in his affidavit, as referred to in the Council‘s submission, that:

Since the bylaw came into force there has been a noticeable reduction in the visibility of gang members. We no longer see patched groups of gang members congregating at formerly usual public haunts such as outside court, WINZ and on certain residential streets.

[129] Given that comment, it seems at least reasonable to conclude that the Council could have passed a bylaw that described, with considerably more specificity than was the case in the Bylaw, the public places that it was to affect.


Last night the Wanganui District Council, instead of taking the big hint from the judge that it urges police to use current legislation to curb violent behaviour, announced it will rewrite its bylaw. One would hope, in their ignorance, these councillors take direction from the judge, and define the areas where gang insignia are banned are "outside court, WINZ and on certain named residential streets".

But I'm not finished, because there have, of late, been other areas where Parliament has hastily passed legislation which will give police the power to trample over our rights.

Take the innocuous-sounding Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, which will do away with the age-old right to silence, by legislating that the accused must provide police with all the details of their defence before going to court. This is bad. It means the prosecution's evidence won't be truly tested, and that is important, considering the enormous resources the state has. The police should not know what's coming when they are questioned in court; their answers should be spontaneous and honest.

Don't think this won't affect you - you the middle class, law-abiding sheeple. Don't think it automatically relates to the criminal underworld. Anyone can be charged with careless use of a motor vehicle after a traffic accident.

Simon Power justifies this Bill in the name of speeding up the justice system, but even his own advisers stated it would be "difficult to identify robust estimates of the savings in preparation and trial time that could be made."

Coupled with the Search and Surveillance Bill, this legislation gives enormous powers to the state, and removes important protections from the individual.

What's that sound I hear? I guess it's the cry of thousands saying if you're innocent you have nothing to fear. Well, Tony Veitch wasn't exactly innocent, but he wasn't as guilty as many of his critics have painted him to be, like Tumeke blogger, whoever he may be, who said this about Veitch:

"After kicking the crap out of his girlfriend on the floor, Veitch is to polite company what gonoreah is to romance."

Did Veitch "kick the crap out of his girlfriend"? I doubt it, but we shall never know because he never got the chance to defend those accusations in court, and the police never provided any evidence to back them up.

You might have missed this news item two weeks back when the Independent Police Complaints Authority ruled that police not only owed Veitch an apology for the way they handled the complaints of domestic abuse against him, but also he should have a say in the way the apology is worded.

Now I've never met Veitch, and this isn't about his personality, his relationships, his attitude, or behaviour. It's about what happens when someone makes serious criminal allegations against you to police. Veitch was charged with six counts of male assaults female and one with injuring with reckless disregard. Police provided no evidence for the six counts of male assaults female so he pleaded guilty to the seventh charge.

However, under the Official Information Act, police gave media 358 documents relating to the male assaults female charges, without telling Veitch or his counsel, Stuart Grieve QC. And much of that information was published.

Hence we now all think of Veitch as a domestic abuser. Bloggers such as Tumeke write possibly defamatory comments about him.

The implications of this are horrendous, I think, when you take it further. Imagine if someone takes a snitch against another - wronged business partner perhaps - and lays complaints with the police for theft of income maybe. I guess you can see where it could lead. How can someone possibly get their reputation back once allegations have gone feral, or viral?

Should police have the power to balance the reporting in the media, as they were chastised for trying to do by the IPCA?

Just what kind of powers do we want our police force to hold?