“The gangs are not above the law,” Mitchell said. “If they break it then there will be enforcement.”
He said police had taken a stronger stance on maintaining order – during gang gatherings – since the election.
“We’ve seen the Head Hunters run from Auckland down to Foxton where there was proper police resource put in place – they had the Eagle [helicopter] overhead – and the feedback from the community in Foxton was they felt safe,” he said.
“We saw the same thing in Whakatāne recently … and that was in contrast to what we saw in Ōpōtiki late last year where you had the Mongrel Mob take over the town and terrorise them and hold the town to ransom.”
Mitchell said the violent initiations behind earning a patch made their presence in the community an act of intimidation.
The minister landed himself in hot water last week when he said the government’s goal of 500 new front-line police officers would take three years to implement – a year longer than the coalition’s planned time frame.
Today he said he was committed to meeting the goal within two years and the government would have to work hard to find new ways to get more cops on the beat quickly.
He said police were facing an array of challenges in recruiting and retaining staff.
“The Australians are here obviously, recruiting our police officers … and also the fact that we’re going to have senior police officers that are coming up to retirement age,” Mitchell said.
“It does pose some challenges … but the reality of it is that we’ve committed to deliver those 500 additional police officers over the next two years and so now we just have to work really hard, supporting the police, coming up with ways that we can actually do that.”
Mitchell said violent recidivist youth offenders funnelled into military style boot camps would need to be backed-up by investment in numeracy and literacy as well as mentoring and lifeskill experiences over a 12-month programme.
“These are deeply complex issues and there’s no easy answer to them,” he said.
“A central government hasn’t got all the answers. It relies very heavily on working with local government, with community organisations, with iwi to try and come up with a really comprehensive response so that we get these young people back on track.”
Mitchell said the police were working to balance the cost of potentially expensive youth crime initiatives alongside Minister of Finance Nicola Willis’ drive to cut 6.5 percent across the board from public services.
“We’ve had enormous amounts of money splashed everywhere with no tangible results,” he said.
“The police – like every agency – has been … asked to go away and have a look and see what savings can be found. The one commitment I will make is that we are focussed on getting resources and numbers back on the front line,” Mitchell said.