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Stories that need to be shared

Police Association president Chris Cahill, who has spent much of his career working on organised crime cases, reviews Gangland by Jared Savage.

In Gangland, New Zealand journalist Jared Savage has written a riveting story that needed to be told, not least because the outstanding investigation work he details in the book deserves recognition.

More importantly, New Zealanders need to be made aware of the level of organised crime that now operates in New Zealand, the strong links it has to international criminal groups and the extent of the social harm that it creates.

Despite limited cooperation from Police, Savage has managed to successfully piece together some of New Zealand’s most high-profile investigations, accurately describing the activities of some of our smartest criminals and the police work that led to their downfall.

He achieved this through good, old-fashioned hard slog – sitting in courtrooms for days on end, laboriously reading court transcripts, linking various charging documents and trying to get snippets of information from the officers involved. He also made the effort to speak with the criminals to try to get their side of the story.

If a young police recruit reading this book doesn’t find their juices flowing, it’s safe to say that a career in CIB is probably not for them.

I admit I am biased. I was hooked on organised crime investigations from the late 80s when I first did electronic monitoring to chase down a heroin dealer in Dunedin. There was no sophistication in those days. We used old reel-to-reel tapes and I remember feeling sorry for the transcriber who had to write down absolutely every conversation, not just
the relevant ones.

The stories in Gangland show the advances that have been made since then. The introduction of the Crime Monitoring Center (CMC) has been one of the greatest developments in organised crime investigation in New Zealand.

What hasn't changed, however – and is well documented here – is the outstanding, innovative and dedicated work of our detectives.

I know the detective sergeants mentioned in the book don't seek publicity (perhaps with the exception of one who is probably already hoping George Clooney will play him in the movie version). They might prefer that such information wasn’t shared, but New Zealanders deserve to hear these stories.

There will be a few old detectives scoffing at some of the firsts attributed to the Auckland Metro Crime and Operational Services (AMCOS) team, knowing they’ve done it all before, but that is the nature of policing. Many of the successes described in this book were built on the lessons learnt from the experienced investigators who came before.

As a detective senior sergeant with AMCOS and the former Organised and Financial Crime Agency NZ (OFCANZ) for six years I had a front-row seat to many of these cases. Often, I was getting told what to do by the detective sergeants mentioned in these stories and watched Detective Inspector Bruce Good shake his head at how easily they twisted me around their little fingers.

I also saw their incredible commitment to the job. In the interests of a good read, Savage hasn’t described the mundane and long hard yards that we know are behind every successful investigation. Or the unsung heroes, such as the CMC monitors and district transcribers and language translators, who have been the key to so many of these successes, or the specialists such as the Technical Support Unit staff and surveillance squads.

Also crucial are the Customs officers and investigators who so often find a vital piece of evidence that leads to the unravelling of a sophisticated operation.

Savage has documented the changing face of organised crime in New Zealand as well as acknowledging the outstanding work of police, and has created a great read that will appeal to police and civilians alike.

There are many more stories that probably should be told and perhaps New Zealand Police might consider whether greater cooperation on such projects would benefit all involved.

Gangland: New Zealand’s Underworld
of Organised Crime
 by Jared Savage (pb, HarperCollins, $36.99)