Gang crackdown: Simon Bridges, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster face off at select committee

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Senior National Party MP Simon Bridges has continued his attack on Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in a fiery Justice Select Committee this morning.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, National Party MP Simon Bridges.

National Party MP Simon Bridges challenged Police Commissioner Andrew Coster about numbers of gang members. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Last week, Bridges described Coster as a “wokester” and accused him of being soft on gangs.

Coster’s appearance followed the launch of Operation Tauwhiro, aimed at targeting and disrupting gang gun violence.

Bridges came out swinging, asking Coster if police “still arrest criminals in New Zealand”, and asking him to be as firm with the gangs as he appeared to be with MPs.

The first heated exchange came around the issue of the increase in gang numbers.

Coster told the committee the National Gang List was not an accurate reflection of active gang members, because it did not take into account people who left gangs.

He said this was designed for intelligence purposes, not as a statistical tool.

Bridges pressed hard on this.

“Surely you accept that the three or four or five or seven older gang members that come off – cos there aren’t many of them – doesn’t remotely make up for the thousands that are going on, and gang numbers in New Zealand, it’s inarguable, are increasing incredibly significantly,” he said.

Coster started to respond by referring to Operation Tauwhiro, but he was repeatedly interrupted by Bridges, who said he was not answering the straight question.

But the biggest clash came over the issue of “policing by consent”.

National Party justice spokesperson Simon Bridges

MP Simon Bridges denies that his leader Judith Collins had reprimanded him about his remarks regarding the commissioner last week. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Bridges asked Coster if police still arrested people, and accused Coster of “tipping the balance” too far.

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He brought up several examples from his electorate where he said police did not “show up” when crimes occurred.

Coster pushed back, saying that policing by consent was not a new approach, and was vital to ensuring police did not clash with communities.

“Let me tell you what policing by consent means. When we look overseas and we see the violent clashes between communities and police – over Covid lockdowns, over Black Lives Matter – that is what it looks like when police lose the consent of their communities,” he said.

“It has nothing to do with whether we will deal with gangs or gang offences. We have put more pressure on gangs, taken more assets, taken more guns, in the last year, than we have in any time of our history.”

Bridges said he felt Coster had “tailored” his messaging today, because he knew what Bridges had “said in the media”.

“I’ve had two exchanges with you in select committees now, commissioner. I’ve found you are capable of being very firm with members. I’m just asking that you be that firm with gang members.”

Speaking to reporters outside, Coster said it was not his place to comment on the “conduct of members”.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster would not be drawn on Simon Bridges’ remarks about him. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

“I really welcome robust challenge of police and what we’re doing and we had a good debate, there’s no easy answers to some of these questions and I welcome the discussion.”

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He wouldn’t be drawn on whether he was a “wokester”.

“I’m not going to get into that conversation, I’m going to let my actions speak for themselves and the positive impact that we’re having for communities.”

Bridges doubled down and defended directly criticising a public servant.

“I call it like I see it. Parliament needs some straight shooters, some people who are going to say what they think without fear or favour, and when it comes to public safety … New Zealand needs some hard questions and some honest talk on that,” he said.

Bridges also denied that his leader Judith Collins had reprimanded him, or told him not to re-use the term “woke”.

“I have great respect for the leader of the National Party, but I only get tellings off from one person, and that’s my wife,” he said.

Bridges apologises over outburst in spat with Speaker

Bridges has also apologised for calling the Speaker a rude name in Parliament yesterday.

Bridges yelled the insult as he stormed out in solidarity with his colleague Paul Goldsmith, who had an argument with Trevor Mallard over a question.

The run-in is just the latest conflict between National and the Speaker, with the party repeatedly trying to call for a vote of no confidence in Mallard.

Bridges said he made the comment in the heat of the moment.

He said he was not in the habit of making un-Parliamentary remarks, but this highlighted the Opposition’s frustration with the Speaker.

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