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October 9, 2006 | by  | in Opinion |
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The Week in Politics

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and getting different results.

This week, rather than seeing a full debate on the state of police and crime in New Zealand between the two major parties, we saw an opportunistic leader of the Opposition try to blast the credibility of the police (again) and undermine the actual debate with a story that people will get sick of.

Earlier in the week, Police figures show that reported crime is up, as well as “resolved” cases. Depending on where you stand, there was plenty to talk about. Simon Power (National, Rangitikei) and Heather Roy (ACT, List) blasted the Government over the increase in crime figures in ten out of twelve districts, notably violent crime, since Labour came to power. Anyone who knows statistics sees the flaw in making conclusions from such a small data set. Whereas the Police were proud to point out that the overall figures where actually down by 20% compared to a decade before. They did try to blow a bit of smoke by coming up with this: “Some of the increase in recorded offences can be attributed to changes in recording practices associated with the migration from the Law Enforcement System (LES, Wanganui) to the National Intelligence Application (NIA).”

In other words, recorded offences spiked when the Wanganui computer was finally disconnected. Does this mean that a decades old computer has been foiling crime? Maybe we should recruit more of these computer cops. They seem to get the job done. (I always wonder if an increase in reported crime is an increase in actual crime, or just that the police actually know that it’s going on.) Speaking of blowing smoke, Even NORML (National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Law) made the point that the hype over P is misplaced, with 75% of police drug charges involving marijuana, 90% of which are for “personal” amounts. I’m not sure what “personal” means, but I’m guessing not enough to tranquilize an elephant.

Roy did suggest that the figures, originally leaked in the Sunday Star Times a day before the official release, were deliberately delayed by Police Minister Annette King (Labour, Rongotai) for several weeks, but made pains to not berate the Police, pointing the figure at the “revolving door justice system”. Compare this statement of support to National Leader Don Brash (National, List) and his letter to the Police Commissioner Howard Board asking to explain why the police did not charge the Labour Party over the spending on its pledge card and brochure earlier this year. In a press release, he stated “While I’m aware that the time limit for prosecution under the Act has now well passed, I‘m releasing this letter to show how seriously National views police conduct of this inquiry.” So, if this was so serious, why wait till now to write the letter, and not in March, when the police reported back? I can only come up with two conclusions: 1) incompetence in not acting faster, 2) opportunism in keeping the story in the media cycle, so the public simmers until the House returns from recess, and the battle resumes. The latter tactic has been done before, and it backfired. The public turned on National during the David Benson-Pope (Labour, Dunedin South) affair earlier this year after their continual attacks, and if National are not careful, they will lose the public’s support again.

Looking from another angle, Dr Brash has for the second time (effectively) criticised the Police, and is becoming the spokesperson for the erosion of the public’s confidence in the police. Here’s what happened the first time he brought up the police investigation (From my 27 March article):

“[Dr Brash threw] in his two cents by suggesting that the police have a bias toward Labour (and then spent the rest of the conference explaining how he had no evidence, nor could articulate how this bias was happening). The general trend of letting Labour off the hook while National MPs Shane Arden (National, Taranaki-King Country) and Nick Smith (National, Nelson) are not does create a justifiable sense of frustration by those on the right. But one wonders as to why the ‘leader in waiting’ would choose to undermine the public confidence in the police.”

It wasn’t good politics the first time around, why would anyone think it would work a second time? What it dose do is avoid the real debate from reaching the highest echelons of our political discourse. And that is the real shame.

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