National backtracks on 'Strike Force Raptor' police unit plans

By Craig McCulloch of RNZ

National is distancing itself from its controversial Strike Force Raptor proposal, saying it would not direct the police to set up such a unit if elected.

The Opposition party made headlines in November when it proposed an elite police squad be formed to target and harass gang members, taking a zero tolerance approach to all offences, no matter how minor.

Then-leader Simon Bridges strongly endorsed the idea - which was modelled on a unit in New South Wales - calling it "devastatingly effective", but criminologists and former detectives said the plan had not worked in Australia.

RNZ understands some National MPs were uncomfortable with the proposal at the time, fearing it could unfairly target Māori.

Asked whether new leader Todd Muller would advocate for the Strike Force Raptor proposal, a party spokesperson told RNZ all policies were under review.

"Any changes or new policies will be announced in the coming weeks."

But, speaking to RNZ on Wednesday night, National police spokesperson Brett Hudson confirmed the party, if elected, would not direct the police to set up a specialist unit akin to Strike Force Raptor.

"I wouldn't step too far over the line to be seen to be directing police on how they deal with their operational procedures and models. The police commissioner has that responsibility."

Asked whether National would abandon the idea altogether, Hudson sought to distance himself from the proposal.

"It's not really about whether you have a specialised unit. It certainly isn't about a name," Hudson said.

"I'm not sure that it was ever envisaged that we would have a unit that would be called [Strike Force Raptor] or anything similar to that."

A media release issued by Hudson on 26 November was titled: "Strike Force Raptor Unit proposed to tackle gangs".

The party's law and order discussion document asked members: "Should National create a specialist unit within the police which has similar powers and proactive approaches to Strike Force Raptor?"

Hudson said National would ensure the police were properly funded to suppress gang crime and violence.

"It's about making sure that we're tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, and that police are properly resourced to be able to deal with that."

The party would also take a broader "social investment" approach to help prevent people from turning to crime in the first place, Hudson said.

National had intended to release a specific "Gang Action Plan" before the election, but that now looks likely to be rolled into a broader suite of justice policies.

"It is far more than simply the harder policing line of dealing with behaviour that's happening now, which we do need to do," Hudson said.

"But it's also looking at how can we help New Zealanders avoid that lifestyle in the first place. And how can we help those who want to exit it?"