Police hierarchy accused of ignoring officers' warnings and 'opening the door for gangs'
Police bosses were warned that cutting a key organised crime position could pave the way for gangs to flourish in Taranaki, newly-released official documents show.
However, top brass pressed ahead and scrapped the Detective Sergeant's role in the region's Organised Crime Squad during the Project Balance restructure of the Central District police, which came into effect in late 2016.
The decision was made despite strong submissions by officers against the move, which they argued would result in increased gang and drug dealing. These concerns have been revealed through the release of documents through an Official Information Act request.
But Detective Inspector Ross McKay, Central District CIB crime manager, defended the change on Monday, saying the organised crime squad would not be adversely affected.
In submissions made to the Central District's top cops during the consultation period, serving officers were also concerned about the speed of changes, a lack of public consultation, or time for staff to make meaningful submissions.
"I believe if the community were aware of some of the proposals, and they knew what it meant for their community, there would be real issues," one submission stated.
Other submissions from serving police detailed how the number of gang members in Taranaki had already grown, and how methamphetamine, a dangerous and addictive Class A drug, had been easier to access than cannabis since 2015, was fuelling violent offending.
"Without the ability to investigate meth dealers as we do now this is only going to get worse," a submission said.
"I believe there is a risk to the organisation and the community if this work isn't maintained and the Detective Sergeant Organised Crime position is disestablished.
"Any reduction to the current organised crime structure would be detrimental to the Taranaki community and against 'our business' principles."
Attempts by the Rebels and Head Hunters gangs to establish a significant foothold in the region's drug scene had been thwarted by the OCS targeting patched members, prospects and hangabouts and put them before the courts, but any changes to the structure of the squad would have a negative flow-on, an officer submitted.
"Any argument that other CIB staff can do this I believe to be flawed, as other squads have other priorities and with other priorities this type of investigation is the first to be put 'on the back burner' or simply not started at all.
"The risk to our organisation by reducing the pressure we have applied to the groups policed by organised crime is significant and too great to ignore."
One submission said the five drivers of crime included organised gangs and drugs and police had given an undertaking to attempt to reduce the social impact they had in the community which was the sole purpose of the local Organised Crime Squad.
"By removing this squad you essentially remove the primary capacity for Taranaki CIB to have an impact in policing these groups.
"We have an increased gang presence in Taranaki and without the ability to target these groups by a specialised squad there is more opportunity for these groups to prosper."
But Detective Inspector Ross McKay, Central District CIB crime manager, said the governance and oversight of the organised crime unit remained the same.
"All staff are available and called upon to respond to a wide range of criminal offending, prudent management requires ongoing discussion around squad structures and demographics to ensure the best service delivery for the public.
"Gang and drug dealing policing is not, and has never been, the sole domain of organised crime units; police adopt a whole of police approach to all crime types."
McKay said police maintained a robust prioritisation process around all types of crime, regardless of the type, giving the organisation the flexibility to resource and respond 24/7 as necessary.
"Project Balance is about ensuring all areas of Central Districts policing work more efficiently, and this means we need to focus our people into areas where we can best contribute to ensuring our public are safe and feel safe.
"It gives commanders the ability to deploy their resources where best required."
Gangs were present in all communities across Taranaki, the Central District and New Zealand, he said.
"We are aware of a range of gang activity and people, and continue to monitor this to ensure oversight and keep our people safe."
McKay accepted the change could make staff anxious but said it would be business as usual.
"Change always has the potential to be temporarily unsettling for some but it is a constant dynamic in all work areas and given the diverse challenges of policing we are fortunate to have a highly skilled adaptable workforce."