Police Minister Mark Mitchell attended a public meeting in Carterton yesterday to discuss the increasing levels of ‘anti-social’ driving behaviour in the region and to promise a crackdown on ‘boy racers’.
The visit was prompted by the events of December 30, when two groups of ‘boy racers’ comprising over 250 cars descended on the region’s rural streets, leaving burnt rubber and shaken residents in their wake.
The Times-Age was barred from attending the meeting, despite it being of wide public interest across the region, so cannot directly report what was said [“This meeting was organised by Mayor Hon. Ron Mark who made the decision not to include media,” a Carterton District Council spokesperson said, while Mark did not respond to a request for comment].
However, Mitchell spoke to the Times-Age after the gathering, which he described as “respectful” and attended by a large number of community members, as well as the Wellington Acting District Commander, the Acting Area Commander, and another senior police officer.
Mitchell said his role was to listen and “put forward some of the things that I’m working on and the support I want to give our frontline police officers in terms of being able to deal with these situations”.
The police minister said he is committed to strengthening or introducing legislation that will give police more powers when it comes to boy racers who are “coming out on a regular basis, taking over, and in a lot of cases, terrorising rural communities”.
Mitchell also said his ongoing efforts won’t just be reserved for boy racers – whom he emphatically labelled as “criminals”.
“I am prioritising my expectations around dealing with violence and disorder in our communities,” Mitchell said, noting this includes gangs, boy racers, and the “massive increase” in retail crime.
This response to what he sees as representing a heightened risk for officers will involve a push to provide more resources for and focus on the frontline.
Mitchell added that the government is working on ways to strengthen laws on impounding vehicles and crushing them, “because I think that once these boy racers work out that they are going to lose their vehicle, then that in and of itself could be a very effective deterrent”.
Mitchell believes a culture of people who think they are above the law has developed in New Zealand.
“They feel emboldened they can go out and behave like this,” he said.
“My focus is to stop that.”
Mitchell said the police are dealing with a “huge increase” in violent crime with a significant rise in firearms incidents: “Their job is a lot more dangerous than it was six years ago.”
There is strong government support for operational decisions made by frontline officers and an understanding of instances where acceleration through operational tactics may be necessary.
“I will support them 110 per cent to go out there and do their job to make sure that the community that they are from, and the public they protect, actually have a sense that our police are patrolling the streets, and not the gangs or boy racers,” Mitchell said.
“I never question decisions that frontline police officers make.”
211 Mafia, one of the prominent car crews that were involved in the December 30 incident, has previously told the Times-Age that the purpose of their events is to bring car enthusiasts together, that ‘drifting’ [also known as doing burnouts] is a legitimate sport, and that a lack of venues to practice their sport means their last resort is public roads.
But Mitchell isn’t having it.
“They don’t have a special licence or a special right just because they have a vibe or a feeling that they should be able to get out there and tear around in their vehicles,” he said.
“Not only do they put members of the public in danger, they put themselves in danger as well.”