Tolley puzzled by gang activity

AUDREY MALONE
Last updated 05:00 26/08/2014

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Claims of increased activity by the Mongrel Mob and Black Power in South Canterbury have surprised Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley.

With the election looming, Tolley was in town yesterday campaigning, visiting both police and Corrections staff.

She spent time in both Timaru and Ashburton, accompanied by Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew.

While in Timaru, Tolley discussed issues, including gang activity in the region, with police.

"Gang activity is right across the country; it's not just an issue South Canterbury is facing. With the Mongrel Mob and Black Power in Timaru that's unusual. It's a bit cold down here for them.

"They usually live in the warmer areas of the country," she said.

Two weeks ago, police denied there was an upsurge in gang-related activity in Timaru after two members of the Mongrel Mob and two members of Black Power fought on the main street during a lunch time.

Sergeant Kevin McErlain said then he had spoken to the presidents of Mongrel Mob and Black Power, and they had assured him there would be no further sanctioned violence.

Tolley said gangs were mobile and would move into different areas as they are shut down in others, she said.

She believed the amount of crime gang members were committing was disproportionate to the number of people in the gangs.

"Gang members add up to 0.1 per cent of the population.

"In this year's crime statistics they are responsible for 25 per cent of homicide charges, 34 per cent of drug charges, and about 36 per cent of serious assaults were done by known gang members," she said.

Tolley said there were different ways to shut down gangs, including changing the burden of proof for known gang members.

"Most of them are receiving a benefit so if they suddenly have a Lamborghini parked in their shed we have suspicion to believe it is purchased from gang related-activity and they have to prove it's not."

She had talked to a group of police officers in Timaru who were very passionate about clamping down on the gang activity, she said.

"They have told me they are doing a good job but could do better."

However, the biggest challenge facing police today is working with repeat offenders, Tolley said.

A way to solve that issue was to educate them and get them into jobs, she said.

"When they are working they are being kept busy and feeling good about themselves so crime is not happening as much. A good economy means less crime"

It was tools that produced a positive outcome to focus on, not police numbers, Tolley said.

"I don't get to caught up on numbers, I like to look at the results. There is currently funding for about 8907 police officers and it is up to the police commissioner to decide where those officers need to be distributed."

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- The Timaru Herald

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