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January 2011
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Small crimes get serious under Section 98a

Crimes that could have been passed off as unrelated volume crime became a lot more serious when police from Wellington District prosecuted eight people under Section 98a of the Crimes Act.

Detective Sergeant Steve Dunn (left) and Inspector Richard Chambers with just some of the property they believe was stolen by an unusual criminal group.
Photo:Detective Constable Alice Makwana, Lower Hutt

The section of the Act can be used when there’s evidence three or more people are operating in an organised group, like a gang, for the specific purpose of criminal gain.

It hasn’t been widely used by Police but it’s powerful legislation, says Lower Hutt Area Commander, Inspector Richard Chambers. The maximum penalty was increased from five to 10 years under the Crimes Amendment Act 2009.
The alleged offenders were not typical ‘gang members’ with patches and colours, but a group of individuals operating in an organised way with criminal intent.

They had come to police attention but were flying under the radar in terms of how prolific and organised they were, says Detective Sergeant Steve Dunn, CIB Squad Supervisor based in Porirua. “They weren’t just doing the odd burglary – it was a full-time job.”

The operation, codenamed Pyrite, was prompted by a range of complaints from members of the illegal street-racing community. “These were the sort of people who don’t normally come forward to police. We put aside what they represented and treated them as victims,” says Richard.

The coordinated use of intelligence and investment brought out the organised element of crimes that could otherwise have been passed off as a bunch of volume crime, he says.

“Intelligence from Hutt Valley, Wellington and Kapiti-Mana suggested the incidents weren’t isolated, or confined to one area.”

All three areas contributed resources. The investigative team of six was increased to more than 60 staff during the termination phase last November.

Search warrants were executed at 13 addresses and a substantial amount of stolen property was recovered, including four vehicles, flat screen TVs, laptops and other electrical items.

Police were able to return property from 24 separate burglaries to appreciative owners. “When you talk to burglary victims it’s not the property that’s the issue, it’s their loss of privacy and sense of safety,” says Steve.

Seven men and one woman were arrested and face a total of 101 charges including participating in organised crime, burglary, receiving stolen goods, theft of motor vehicles, possession and cultivation of a Class B controlled drug (cannabis) and offering to supply it.

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