Wairoa in Hawke’s Bay has a reputation for gang violence and drug abuse dating back years.
Police, the iwi and the city council say time is up and they are joining forces to stop the crime and restore the city’s position.
RNZ Hawke’s Bay reporter Tom Kitchin speaks with leaders of the charge.
Few, if any, know the Wairoa story better than Nigel How.
He is the president of Wairoa Taiwhenua, a charity that advocates, promotes and acts for the benefit of the 9,300 tangata whenua members in the rohe, and also the local representative on the board of directors of Ngāti Kahungunu iwi.
He works part-time at the Wairoa Museum, where 100-year-old photographs adorn the walls and cabinets are filled with taonga treasures.
In the confines of the museum archives, talk about the history of the city.
“So before 1865, no government here … Maori ruled the place,” he says.
“The Europeans who lived here were very happy with that arrangement and they all became extremely wealthy. We built our own ships, exported wheat and timber to Sydney and England, there was a lot of wealth and health.”
But then the Crown took over and he says everything changed for the worse.
“Since then nothing has worked properly for the community. Our community now has some of the highest deprivation statistics in the country, we have some of the lowest wage and salary rates in the country, we have some of the lowest health rates. of the country, country and everything is in effect that control was taken away from the people 150 years ago.
“So we’re currently dealing with 150-odd years of a broken community, and how we put it back together, and it’s going to take a long time.”
He thinks it’s time to give it a good shot.
“In this current environment, with a supportive government and our local entities working together, and in particular, pushing the Wairoa voice for Wairoa and bringing resources from Wairoa to Wairoa, we should be able to achieve that.”
Community leaders say one of the main reasons for the damage in Wairoa is the lack of roads for rangatahi.
Wairoa Young Achievers Trust Director of Youth Services Denise Eaglesome Karekare cares for youth who have dropped out of school every day.
She explains what the lack of tracks could mean.
“It is the Rangatahi who have their first contact with the law,” he says.
“Rangatahi who lives in environments that do not support them to go or advance, Rangatahi who needs direction, who has left school for many reasons and has been left in a small black hole, because if ‘If you are 16 and 17 years old, some are so Young people like 15, if you drop out of school, you’re not anyone’s customer.
“It’s about our young children gravitating toward activities that are not good, because they are bored and no one else is interested in them.”
Police say Wairoa has more than his fair share in firearms and physical violence. In June alone, there were at least five incidents in which weapons were fired at homes.
Sergeant Major Maui Aben, the Wairoa area response manager, is clear on the motivations.
“For me, I think organized crime is based on greed. Money is a huge boost for people who want more, and selling products like methamphetamine is easy money.”
Ponder why Wairoa might have more than his fair share of these problems.
“Something has to do with the job or lack of employment, something with the bad behavior that comes from addictions.”
This year, the police have run two major operations in the area to disrupt organized crime and the distribution of methamphetamine.
But the challenges have not stopped. Aben says there has been an increase in family damage after the operations.
He says drug dealers have been driven out of the community, so family stress is increasing as they can no longer obtain methamphetamine.
Police try to link people involved in domestic incidents with local organizations that can help them.
“What we are concerned about is helping with that situation, and we have people within Wairoa in organizations who are enthusiastic and willing to support the whānau who are struggling, due to addiction and the behaviors that accompany that.”
Taiwan and the police have taken a step together: the police have funded two posts in Taiwan, in an effort to make the city a safer place.
One role will help drive safety, the other will lead research to help reduce harm.
Wairoa Mayor Craig Little is also heavily involved.
He says it is a good example of how local groups work together.
“That is an absolute collaboration with the community, [the] Taiwan works on behalf of the entire community. I think it’s quite exciting. We will get a good opinion on these positions and they will also have a good idea of what the community wants. “
He supports the police and says his city is not unsafe.
“People certainly don’t feel unsafe, the police have it very well controlled, and generally the perpetrators are caught pretty quickly.”
He says it is up to the community to tell the police what they know, even if it is whānau.
“You have to think, ‘Is that family member taking care of me as part of his family as well as he should?’ If he’s doing bad things, the answer is ‘no and should you protect him?’ I think the answer is ‘no’ because he is not protecting you and is he harming or interfering with the lives of many people? You have to ask yourself that. “