I recently came across a piquant story about a police stand-off with an armed offender in East Vincent, Chester County, Pennsylvania, population 7000.

On Christmas Day last year, Nathaniel Lewis, following an altercation with his wife, locked himself in his house with a firearm. Subsequently things turned ugly as Mr Lewis started blasting away - luckily to no effect - at the police SWAT team called to the scene.

Come early Boxing Day, the impasse continued, although phone contact had been established. Then came a highly unusual request from Mr Lewis – he wanted to hear a rendition of White Christmas.

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Now having just been target practice for Mr Lewis, the SWAT team could have been forgiven for thinking the gunman was just jerking their cord. But one of Chester County's finest decided at that stage anything was worth a shot, so to speak, and duly reeled off a faithful rendition of Bing Crosby's sentimental classic.

Nek minute, a subdued and remorseful Mr Lewis surrendered himself to the SWATs, and peace was restored to the neighbourhood without further ado.

Full credit to the SWATs. Instead of dismissing the left-field request out of hand, they were prepared to try something different, and came up trumps.

Now the late and only partially lamented Piggy Muldoon had his fair share of faults, including trying to run New Zealand like a case-book communist Albania – for a National Party leader, a pretty rich proposition. But one thing he had a go at was trying to crack the bikie-gang cycle with work programmes and such like. In fact, he and the gangs seemed to have had a fair bit of the old sympatico.

At the tangi of former Black Power gang leader Abraham (Abe) Wharewaka-Topia, Abe's brothers spoke about his colourful past and dealings with Prime Minister Muldoon. "They were very, very similar," observed brother Charlie. Who knows, with Piggy's pugnacious temperament, perhaps he fancied himself tooling around on a "hog" in a leather jacket emblazoned with the legend "I ride with the Marxists".

Millions were eventually shelled out trying to haul gang miscreants back from the brink through various work and training programmes. Alas, while some ticked over for a while, and useful work got done, eventually too many of the dollars got hijacked for new pool tables and such for the gang HQs. But at least Muldoon tried something different, and maybe it's worth another crack.

Years later, we now not only still have an entrenched endemic gang culture, but also a rampant disenfranchised youth group culture. Numerically, it's not huge, but its consequences are. And underpinning the bulk of this collective dysfunction is a burgeoning drug crisis that per capita is one of the worst on the planet.

For decade upon decade, we've pursued the ubiquitous "war on drugs" approach that's not only spectacularly failed to curb drug use, but has also packed out the very gaols and correctional facilities that serve as the proverbial finishing schools of crime, eventually rippling through all social strata.


It's time to start singing White Christmas. We have to dare to start doing something radically different.

This story, you may recall, started out in Chester County, Pennsylvania. We have our own version of a "Chester County" right here, with poacher-turned-gamekeeper, ex local MP Chester Borrows now chairman of a Justice Advisory Group charged with formulating initiatives capable of cracking the relentless drug and incarceration cycle.

If even ex-cop Chester is now saying that we can't keep on doing the same old punitive stuff and expect different results, then maybe we really do need to be doing something different.

Along with other Working Groups, the Justice Advisory group has been chewing up a seven-figure sum roaming the country to canvass both perpetrators and victims of the current failed systems.

Let's hope its final report does actually dare to make recommendations capable of delivering the differences so desperately required.