Parts of south Auckland are too often unfairly classified as synonymous with violence and,
without question, they are facing significant problems.
The number of bullets hitting bodies is once again raising concern. Councillor Efeso Collins has been all over the issue, but recently even he has been sounding at his wits' end.
In the past couple of weeks there has been a man injured in a shooting, a stabbing in a bar, and one death from an assault. The shooting was one of many, which have been going on all year. Four people have died from these shootings alone, and more have been injured, including Killer Beez president Josh Marsters.
Gangs are reported to be at or near the heart of many of these events and addressing gang issues tends to have positive flow-on effects. There is real sense of public urgency here, yet we seem at a loss as to what to do. There's no reason for that.
A spate of violence, including an acute concentration of killings, is not a new thing in south Auckland. The upside to this history is that it gives us a strong guide on how to react. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten those lessons.
In late 2006, there were a rash of killings linked to the growing number of LA-style street
gangs in south Auckland. The police did what they could to try and put a lid on things, and blanket policed the streets of the area with a special "Youth Gang Suppression Unit". While there was no arguing with its necessity, this response was a blunt tool aimed at a complex problem.
The Youth Gang Suppression Unit put a lid on things in the short term, but ultimately wasn't sustainable: blanket policing picks up a lot of people who are simply going about lawful activities, and this can breed resentment. It also obviously focuses on the symptoms of the problems, rather than the causes. Something more was needed.
Encouraged by a forward-thinking police inspector, the suppression units were renamed
action teams, and it wasn't just a name change it signalled a government-wide approach to the problem. It was rather uncreatively called "The Youth Action Plan".
Central government funding was given to social workers to encourage governmental and social service agencies to work together to tackle the broader issues. The crime that was occurring was invariably part of wider social concerns within families and the community, and so the efforts were designed to tackle not just the symptoms but the causes as well.
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The police didn't stop policing, but they were just one element of the arsenal in play. In the same way doctors are used for the measles epidemic, but the solutions lie in getting kids vaccinated.
By 2009, the list of preventative interventions and activities that had been undertaken were numerous, and a review of the wrap-around method showed a reduction in gang activity.
The approach was being applauded by police, and their data showed significant reductions in youth apprehensions during that time. In 2007 and 2008 apprehensions of those under 20 fell by 9 per cent while the nationwide average was a 3 per cent increase.
Similarly, between 2006 and 2009, Manukau City Council's annual perceptions survey showed that on every measure (home during day and at night, neighbourhood during the day and at night, and the town centre during the day and at night) people reported feeling safer.
Since then the social workers at the heart of the Youth Action Plan lost their funding. And
here we go again.
To be fair, the situations are not identical. The current problems are broader and involve more adult gangs, but the approach should nevertheless not be ignored. Crime is a complex problem and causes are numerous, and we cannot just sit back and think the police can solve it. The police have an important role, but these issues invariably require communitywide initiatives.
And that means New Zealand as a community should be responding. Many suburbs of south Auckland are doing it tough but the impacts don't start and end there. The flow-on effects of crime have lifelong consequences that are expensive to the justice system, for the victims, and ultimately drag on the economy – not least due to wasted potential.
It's not just south Auckland's problem, it is all of ours.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is the Director of Criminal Justice at the University of Canterbury and the lead researcher at Independent Research Solutions. He is an award-winning writer who specialises in research with practical applications.