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The growth of organised crime was a real concern and “we need to do things differently”, Police Minister Stuart Nash said as he officially opened the Police Association annual conference.

The image of a yobbo walking around in a patch and riding an expensive Harley Davidson was no longer a reliable profile of a gang member, Mr Nash said.

Gangs were now sophisticated business enterprises, and police were arresting lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, logistics specialists, PR practitioners. It was these people who were the ones driving the growth in organised crime.

The arrival of the Rebels from Australia had been the starting point of the changing gang scene, he said.

“We do need to do things differently – and we are. We must also be alert to the risk of fentanyl taking hold in this country. It is killing thousands of Americans and we are alert to the risks of it arriving here.”

He said he was not so naive to believe the meth problem was under control but some progress had been made.

“We cannot arrest our way out of the meth problem. It is why we are taking a whole-of-government approach to organised crime.

“Police will lead the process, but we will partner with mental health and addiction services, Ministry of Social Development, Oranga Tamariki, Housing and other service providers.

“We have already said that those who are caught in the web of addiction should only be prosecuted if it is in the public good, whereas the dealers, suppliers and importers will be hit hard.

“But we recognise that we need different strategies and approaches for tackling the demand side than we need to deal with the supply side of meth.

He praised the work of police grappling with unprecedented challenges, saying police had shone in a tough year book-ended by the Tasman fires, which began on February 5, and the end of the firearm buy-back, on December 20.

“It started with the Tasman fires – and Police helped out in a way that exceeded the community’s expectations – but reinforced the diverse role that police now play in our communities,” he said.

March 15 arrived and police around the country stepped up and acted with bravery, humility, compassion and professionalism that “spoke volumes about the culture of the police service in 2019”, he said.

He took the opportunity to quash rumours that the gun buy-back might be extended or the amount of compensation might change.

“I am not going to extend the buy-back, or change pricing, or change my mind,” he said.

“If people haven’t handed in their banned firearms by December 20, they will get no money and will face up to five years in jail if we find them.”

The roadshows he had been doing with Commissioner Mike Bush had been “valuable and insightful” and would continue next year. He urged delegates to take advantage of these roadshows and tell them about the issues affecting staff on the frontline.

He concluded by saying he appreciated the work of the association especially with so many new members entering policing at a challenging time.

“We cannot arrest our way out of the meth problem.”

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