Peace of our Nation hangs on law and order enforcement

Crime in New Zealand, Gangs, New Zealand Police, Law and Order, Maxim Institute

Josiah Brown
Auckland, December 19, 2023

The adage that “crime doesn’t pay” appears less tenable than it once did.

It seems this “truth” is relative, one that depends on the presence and function of certain structures to make lawlessness unappealing.

Upward trends in crime over the past few years have led many Kiwis to wonder where our country is headed. Maybe that is why Police Minister Mark Mitchell made the unusual move of writing a public letter to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, outlining his expectations for stricter law enforcement.

Crime flourishes where conditions allow, but equally, it struggles where institutions function properly to prevent it.

The El Salvador Experience

El Salvador’s recent history offers a salutary warning of what can happen when incentive structures fail to curb lawlessness. Until recently, this was a nation ravaged by widespread murder, rape, and extortion at the hands of unchecked, warring gangs.

El Salvador had the highest homicide rates in the world in 2015, with 105 murders per 100,000. In March last year, President Nayib Bukele ordered a major crackdown on gangs leading to the arrest of 66,000 suspected gang members and affiliates, roughly 1% of the population.

These extreme measures have radically changed life in El Salvador.

The murder rate has plummeted 93% from 2015 (now 7.8 per 100,000), gang members are seldom seen in communities after being forced underground, and local businesses can operate without having to pay high extortion fees.

President Bukele enjoys popular support and is expected to be re-elected in 2024, but there are serious concerns about human rights violations.

Leniency in New Zealand

New Zealand does not want a situation like El Salvador, where crime gets so out of control that instantaneous mass incarceration appears to be the only viable option. But it is not inconceivable as a possibility given recent trends: crime is up, and prosecution is down.

Between 2017 and 2022, reported crime rose by 33%, while Police actions decreased by 26%, convictions by 25%, and prison sentences by 38%.

The math does not add up, at least not until you factor in Labour’s 30% prison reduction target, which it nearly achieved in 2022.

This may explain why a near-fatal samurai sword attack only merited 10 months’ home detention and why the Auckland CBD shooter had five months’ home detention despite the violent nature of his offending.

National’s response to restore “law and order” is to give greater powers to the Police and impose harsher penalties on criminals. One way they intend to do this is to make life more difficult for gangs through laws similar to Western Australia’s anti-bikie legislation.

As good as this may be, the government must recognise that policy alone is not enough.

If the Police cannot give effect to the law, the law becomes a mere suggestion; and if the punishment does not fit the crime, then it would seem that crime really does pay.

Finding ways to bolster Police resourcing and the capacity of courts to pass just judgements is most pressing. The peace of our nation hangs on it.

Josiah Brown is Communications Coordinator at the Auckland-based Maxim Institute, an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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