By Stuart Nash, Minister of Police, Labour MP for Napier.
Anyone who is a fan of TV crime shows about forensic investigations knows that often the scientists are the heroes, sharing the stage with seasoned detectives who deal with the messy stuff.
Here in New Zealand there’s some particularly messy and unglamorous work that forensic scientists from ESR do alongside Police. In my view it’s time we acknowledged them for the contribution and insights they give us, especially around drug use in the wider population.
But first some background.
This week the Coalition Government marked a huge milestone as we celebrated more than 2,000 new Police who have graduated from the Royal NZ Police College and been deployed all over the country since we took office.
It was time to take stock of the difference these extra Police officers have made for community safety and crime prevention.
There have been some real breakthroughs in the high-profile areas of organised crime, drugs, firearms and gangs.
Scientists from ESR have been part of this. They work with Police and local councils to carry out wastewater testing at sewage treatment plants all over the country. Yes, it seems ghastly, but it provides conclusive evidence about what substances people are putting into (and out of) their bodies.
We got some interesting results this month from their first full year of nationwide testing. It showed that methamphetamine use has dropped by 17 percent over the course of the year.
It’s still early days in this testing programme, and while Police and ESR establish a baseline for their research, we can expect fluctuations. But the drop in meth consumption is a move in the right direction.
Lower levels of methamphetamine may indicate that our efforts to tackle both supply of the drug and demand for it are having a difference.
Users of meth are now getting more help after a big investment in mental health and addiction services in last year’s Budget.
But Police and Customs officers also deserve credit for some big drug busts last year. They seized a record 1.8 tonnes of meth, six times higher than the 300kg seized in 2018.
They are also going hard after white collar crims including lawyers, accountants and other businesspeople, who are working with gangs to import and distribute the drug.
In the 2019 calendar year Police seized $101 million in assets from offenders involved in serious and organised crime.
It was a 66 percent increase on 2018, when $61 million in goods was seized.
It included properties and houses, high-spec vehicles like Harley Davidsons and Rolls Royces, bank accounts, piles of cash, crypto currency, jewellery and a host of other items such as gold bullion and farm vehicles.
Another major trans-national operation in February disrupted a methamphetamine network with links to Chile, Brazil, the Philippines and Italy.
Police will strip criminals of their assets under powers to go after the proceeds of crime. We are the true government of law and order, committed to making a real difference for communities.
Stuart Nash is Minister of Police, & Labour MP for Napier.