David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Minister used wrong figures to justify gang policy, police admit

Anne Tolley: She issued a press release saying 4000 gang members were responsible for a crime wave, including a quarter of murders last year
Anne Tolley: She issued a press release saying 4000 gang members were responsible for a crime wave, including a quarter of murders last year

- Gang stats error picked up by police in run-up to election
- Police say they will publish clarification online
- Tolley claimed 4000 gang members responsible for crime wave
- Academic who challenged figures says he was slammed by right-wing bloggers

Figures used by Police Minister Anne Tolley to justify a new law tackling gangs were wrong, police admitted last night.

The error was picked up by police shortly after Ms Tolley announced the policy in the run-up to the election but it has yet to be publicly corrected.

"Our intention is to shortly publish the relevant Cabinet Paper and clarification online," a spokesman said last night.

Ms Tolley launched the policy as a "whole of government" approach to gangs which included drug dogs at domestic transit points - airports and ferries - and a new gang intelligence centre.

Launching the policy, she issued a press release saying 4000 gang members were responsible for a crime wave, including a quarter of murders last year.

She said that during the first three months of this year those 4000 gang members commited 34 per cent of serious drug offences, 36 per cent of kidnapping and abductions, 25 per cent of robbery offences and 26 per cent of grievous assault offences.

University of Canterbury sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, who challenged the figures at the time of the policy launch, was yesterday citing proof the press release was wrong.

Information from police showed the crimes which had been blamed on gang members had been committed by a much wider pool of people, he said. Information released by police showed the crimes were committed by "adult gang members and prospects and the individuals connected to these gang members".

Dr Gilbert said the crimes appeared linked to a much wider group of 60,000 people who police often used to describe the wider gang-linked community.

Dr Gilbert said the minister's statistics were "fiction" and misrepresented the scale of the gang problem, inflating crime committed by gang members to as much as 10 times what was actually committed.

He said he accepted that gangs were an issue but good policy needed accurate data.

"The history of gang legislation in this country is an abysmal failure," he said. "The fundamental reason for that is because we have misunderstood the problem. Using wildly inaccurate data is part of what has led to that."

A police spokesman said in the information supplied to the minister it was not clear that people other than gang members were responsible for the crimes.

He said the crimes were also committed by family of gang members, people charged with crimes which also included gang members and others with an "identified connection" to gang members.

The minister's office refused comment on whether the figures in the press release were wrong but said police "should have been clearer".

'Dirty Politics'

It's all Dirty Politics - even after the election.

That's the verdict of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, who pointed out statistics errors used by the Minister of Police Anne Tolley when launching a new gang policy.

At the time, National Party pollster and Kiwiblog owner David Farrar said he had "seen the actual stats the Minister is referring to" and Dr Gilbert was wrong.

What followed was an online argument which Dr Gilbert says derailed his attempt to point out inaccurate figures. "The Minister was forgotten, I was now the one trying to mislead the people. I was being discredited by mischief and fiction, not by facts and reasoned argument."

He said it was his own experience of Dirty Politics, pointing to the book which alleged the National Party used bloggers including Farrar to attack those which criticised it.

Yesterday, Farrar blogged "Jarrod was right". "May have some carrots to eat," he added.

But Farrar's mea culpa was simply more dirty politics, says Dr Gilbert. It came less than two hours after the Herald called the Minister's press secretary Gillon Carruthers for comment. Dr Gilbert said it appeared the Minister gave Farrar advance warning so he could "defend himself".

Mr Carruthers confirmed he had previously given details to Farrar and contacted the blogger again yesterday, saying it was to "apologise for the stats not being clear enough".

In Dirty Politics, Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater is quoted saying: "I got those stats out of Tolley's office, seems Gillon has worked out that feeding the whale might help."

WHAT SHE SAYS
4000 gang members commit 25% of murders, 34% of serious drug offences, 36% of kidnapping and abductions, 25% of robbery offences and 26% of grievous assault offences
WHAT POLICE SAY
The crimes were committed by gang members, associates and anyone known to them

- NZ Herald

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