"Are you interested in politics?" asked my Auckland Uber driver.
"I take an interest," I said.
For the next 20 minutes: "I voted for Jacinda. Big mistake. This Government subsidises gangs. I have been driving for 20 years. This used to be a safe city. I am voting National."
I was once Police Minister. My driver got me thinking about what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern can do about crime. Here are the problems:
• He is right. Never pay for what you do not want more of. Giving gangs taxpayer money was never a good idea.
• Rising crime is one of the consequences of lockdowns. For two years much of our police force has been focused on locking us down while the criminals have had a free run. To restore law and order, there must be no more lockdowns.
• What does the Government think the 40 per cent of pupils who are truant every day get up to?
• Many of the 501s are very bad men.
• Delays have made our courts part of the problem.
Going to Australia for a photo-op demanding Australia stops deporting Kiwis is just gesture politics. Instead, ask for something we can get. How about asking for a million dollars for each deportee to enable their resettlement?
Make it a crime for any New Zealander to be deported from Australia. On arrival, take every 501 to a judge who can decide they are high-risk and order lifetime supervision and compulsory rehabilitation. These 501s should not be able to join any organisation without permission.
Get the ram raiders back in school. We will never fix truancy while schools are paid for the number of pupils they enrol, not the number they teach. Make funding dependent on attendance. Stopping truancy will then be every school's priority.
Police do make a difference, when they are in the community. As Minister of Police I changed the emphasis from invisible patrolling by car to visible community policing. We also funded Neighbourhood Support groups. We encouraged the community to help keep the neighbourhood safe. It worked.
I was impressed by how Māori wardens kept order.
Set up a system of wardens for the whole country. Employ people who live in the neighbourhood, such as retired police, as wardens. It would be the warden's job to know the community and its youth.
Japan has such a system. When you move into a neighbourhood in Japan, within a few days the local warden knocks on your door. "Who are you? What do you do?" Then they give their contact details. You are encouraged to report anything unusual.
The wardens would keep very close contact with the schools. They could check on any pupil who is absent.
When there is a crime, the first person the Japanese police contact is the local warden, who often has a very good idea who is responsible. The wardens solve most Japanese crime.
A nationwide system of neighbourhood wardens would be relatively cheap.
Then we should employ more middle-aged Māori women as police officers.
As minister, I read the research. Fit young men make poor police officers. They get into fights with other fit young males. Middle-aged policewomen never get into fights. Where they patrol, crime falls. Young men who commit most crime are psychologically programmed from birth to obey women who look like their mothers. The Police Commissioner was horrified to learn that middle-aged women could do policing better.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Bring back no-nonsense magistrates to administer quick justice. When I first started law, offenders who were arrested at night were dealt with the next day. They were convicted, sentenced and back at work by lunchtime. Every measure over the past 50 years to improve the court system has made it more unjust.
Today, a duty solicitor, paid by the taxpayer, advises a defendant to reserve their plea. Then a legal aid barrister, also taxpayer-paid, advises a plea of not guilty. Cases where there is no defence can be delayed for months, sometimes years by motions, many without merit. In the meantime, the defendant's life is suspended. He is often in jail on remand.
There will be court cases today where everybody - judge, prosecutor, defence counsel and defendant - all know that regardless of the verdict, the defendant is going to walk free. He has spent longer in prison on remand than any possible sentence.
Court delays are adding to the serious crime rate. There is no better way of turning young offenders into hardened criminals than putting them in prison for months awaiting trial.
Restoring law and order must be a top priority. If the Government were to adopt these suggestions, not only will there be less crime, but Jacinda Ardern might get that Uber driver's vote back again.
- Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.