My experience with the criminal justice system.

From ages 20-25 I was doing graffiti and getting caught and going through the New Zealand criminal justice system.

One person involved in one of my arrests said I was ‘incorrigible’ . It was the first time I’d heard that term, and the term fits.

(of a person or their behaviour) not able to be changed or reformed.

You get a few free passes in the criminal – being educated and white probably helps.

My diversion was used in in my first week since leaving home – when I was caught shoplifting a coffee grinder. I spent three days sweeping graves and vacuuming the crematorium lobby.

I got caught shoplifting gumboots that I impulsively walked out of the The Warehouse wearing. The staff were tipped off by old ladies fundraising outside who noticed that I wasn’t wearing the gumboots when I walked in. I was arrested and when I went to court I told the duty solicitor that I’d just forgotten to pay for them, as  evidenced by that I’d bought $80 worth of other stuff – and he convinced the police to drop the charges.

My third free pass was being caught doing graffiti in either Timaru or Oamaru. I was hitchhiking, and couldn’t pass up putting my tag on a big blank wall in the middle of day.

This lead to several members of the public making a concerted effort to chase me down, and I was arrested, and made to scrub the tag off. I was given a discharge without conviction.

But after that – my arrests started having teeth – first fines, then the fines were commuted to community service. I did two stints of community service (the second being 200 hours) and received a jail warning. My final conviction was a second jail warning and a sentence to a year’s intensive supervision – which involved regularly checking in weekly with my probation officer.

It was at this point, and prior to the actual conviction, that I was committed to rehabilitation – the prospect of a jail sentence scared me – and I was aware that a jail sentence would mean I wouldn’t be eligible for a conviction clean slate, under Nandor Tanczos clean slate legislation. So I enrolled in a university course, and arranged to lived with my mum in the case that I the judge decided to impose a sentence of home detention. No doubt this also served to show some efforts at reform in the eyes of the sentencing judge (although the sentencing hearing was all of five minutes).

One of the first meetings I had with the probation officer I think is a profound reflection of the resourcing the the criminal justice system has. The PO when through a questionnaire assessing various social needs – did I use drugs, how often did I drink, did I have debt etc. One of the questions was – did I gamble?. I didn’t use the pokies – but at the time I did play online poker. So the probation officer referred me to gambling counselling. This was – probably the single most effective thing the justice system did for my rehabilitation (aside from perhaps the clean slate legislation) – I didn’t talk about gambling with the gambling counsellor, but was able to talk about anything else.

Experience of community service

I did I believe two stints of community service. I think one was for 80 hours, and the other for 200 hours.

The experience of community service changes, depending on the location. In my experience, Paeroa had a more professional feel about it, whereas Motueka the probies and the offenders seemed chummy – I even witnessed a probie smoking weed openly with some of the offenders.

Community service is usually just wasting time. Sometimes we did things that were clearly of value – mowing lawns for a bowls club, or weeding and laying down weed matting for a marae. But in Motueka for example – the fallback task was going to hill and removing gorse – never at a rate that would completely eradicate it. Maybe I’m being cynical. I’d be curious to see what the state of that hill is now.

The work was never particularly hard or urgent. There was a lot of shovel leaning.

A lot of the people I was on community service with were there for car offences. They’d rack up tens of thousands of dollars of fines for driving warrantless cars or not having a license – and then get those fines converted to community service. The conversion rate was around $50/hr.

Drunk driving was another common offence.

One guy I talked to – said he was on for evading police. He said he was transporting a large amount of meth in his car and police tried to pull him over. Rather than risk a ten-year prison sentence, he boosted it, driving dangerously to escape the police. The police still caught up with him later – but of course the dangerous driving is a far lesser charge than being caught with meth. It’s always possible that he was lying, but the story makes sense to me.

In many respects, I was quite different to the offenders – educated, well spoken, not a smoker. I would suggest, quite a pleasant kind of offender to deal with. But on the other hand – I was very much the same – a young male making short-sighted and irrationally costly decisions.

Experience of the police and the courts.

For the overwhelming most part – my experience of the police has been that they’ve been respectful and professional. Of the 10-15 times I was arrested, I can only recall being handcuffed twice. Once a standard hands-behind-my-back when being arrested during daylight in Dunedin – and another time hands-in-front when they were doing a prisoner transfer to a town an hour away where the court was, after deciding they were opposing bail.

This was to my advantage – on two separate occasions I was able to get rid of drugs I had on my person, once by hiding them beneath the seat – and the other time, amazingly, I ate the cannabis with a cop right next to me – as she had turned away. Thirty minutes later, while being booked at the police station, it started coming on.

I have two negative experiences I can speak of. One is – after being arrested by a detective in Christchurch, after he happened to be driving past as I was peeing on a tree – in the police cells, he’d give me these little shoves. It sounds minor – but it felt disrespectful and as if he was egging me on to react to it. 

The other was, having about to start spray painting a wall, a women in a nearby building yelled at me and I took off running. The police caught me – searched my bag, and arrested me. The wall was already covered in graffiti – and they just took a photo of any old tag (not mine – I hadn’t actually started painting the wall yet) and told the court that’s what I’d painted.

This was actually my first conviction. I represented myself at trial – I didn’t win – the judge putting value on the witness’s testimony – who’d said that she’d seen me painting the wall. I imagine I might have gotten off if I did have a lawyer – part of the evidence they’d confiscated was a sketchbook of my tags that clearly didn’t match the photo they took.

Though, the duty solicitors aren’t always good. Their job is just as much to help funnel people through the grinder that is the court system, as it is to help the defendants. I had one experience where due to some kind of paperwork error – I’d turned up to court to find that there was a warrant for my arrest for failing to turn up to court in another town – something I’d arranged to have changed. I’d told the duty solicitor this – and he neglected to mention it to the judge – and entered a guilty plea for it. So I have a conviction for failing to appear in court on my record, which is unwarranted – and is probably far too late to fix now.

How I would suggest improving the criminal justice system.

I have no doubt that in my case, an intervention could have been done at my very first arrest that might have prevented a continuing life of crime. A conversation around ‘what actually are you doing here? – Are you aware of the consequences for your life in ten and twenty years?’. Though – chances are I would have given some spiel about the system and not being beholden to the man or something.

It wouldn’t be the police’s responsibility to do this intervention – instead – what I would suggest is that early diversion and sentencing involves a compulsory visit to some kind of trained therapist or psychologist. Of course – the problem is – I imagine the justice system simply doesn’t have that kind of money.

The alternative I suppose – would to put my community hooks in. This already exists – often community service is done working at an op shop etc, under the direct supervision of the op shop and not probation officers. Presumably if community counselling exists – then offenders could be referred to community counselling at that be taken in consideration at sentencing.

At least in my experience – this didn’t happen, but perhaps it’s getting more common as the case of when my bike was stolen would suggest.

 

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I submitted a Privacy Act Request to the New Zealand police. Here’s what I got: (my mugshots).

In New Zealand, The Privacy Act entitles any individual to request any personal information an organisation (private or otherwise) has about that person, and to then make corrections to that information. You can see more information about the privacy act here. 

I made a request to the New Zealand Police for my personal information. For context I have a somewhat extensive history with the police, from a period in my life when I did graffiti and was caught several times doing it.

They did call me back to inform me that they were having trouble retrieving some of the information – I think it’s because some of my arrests/information were prior to an improved digitalisation of police records. I told them that was fine, and to send what they could get.

They sent me a PDF containing:

  • A history of pretty much every address I’ve lived at. I counted 28 – but several of those are duplicates.
  • A bunch of mugshots.
  • A very messily hand written police notebook, from when my bike got stolen.

So without further adieu: four years of mugshots from my graffiti days:

Screenshot from 2018-05-05 18-03-57

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I’m not sure what’s going on with this last photo. I can’t even think what the 2005 arrest is from. From what I can remember – I didn’t start getting arrested until 2006.

😅 😓

 

The time I was woken by a police dog.

When I was 20 I lived by myself in squat in Dunedin. The squat was a partially burned out house, which I’d crawl into through a hole in the wall.

One night I woke with police German Shepherd on top of me.

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The dog was gentle, I in no way felt menaced by it; it was just as if a friendly dog was waking you up by climbing on you.

However, at the time, I was a cannabis dealer, and I did had about 1/2 pound of cannabis beside me. Not knowing whether the dog was trained to smell drugs, I quickly got up to meet the dog’s handler.

A policeman was beginning to climb through the hole, and instead I met him outside.

He explained that they were looking for someone else. He said I could stay there for now, but that they’d be informing the owner that I was there, then him and the dog left.

A couple of months later I awoke to the owner and worker arriving. The owner promptly informed me ‘your tenancy is over!’, in good nature. They boarded up the hole and I found a different place to stay.

 

 

 

 

The time I woke up surrounded by cows

When I was about eighteen, and living in the South Island, for some reason I’d hitch hiked to Takaka, at the top of the South Island.

It my first time there. People told me that there’s a bridge just outside of town, that was a good camp spot.

But the thing is, turns out there’s a bridge on either end of town. I hadn’t gone through the other end of town, so I didn’t know about that one, so I assumed it was the one that I’d gone over when I first came in.

So I go back to that tent, and there’s a paddock. The weather’s fine and it’s summer, so I just sleep out under the stars.

That night I had a dream that a cow bit me.

I wake up in the morning, and open my eyes, and there’s all these cows standing around me staring at me.

I’d slept in a cow paddock.

It looked a bit like this:

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The stolen bike sting operation.

Background

I’d recently found a new a job, and I’d moved out of the flat I’d been head tenant of, and moved into long term budget accommodation, a your-own-room-but-shared-facilities deal.

The accommodation is shared with some odd characters, but I was pleasantly surprised that kitchen was tidy, and for the most part it was quiet; it was better than I’d anticipated.

Between jobs, I had one week holiday, which I spent relaxing with my family.

The Heist

I came back with a few days spare to sort things out before starting the new job, buying clothes etc.

When I went to get my bike to start a shopping mission – the bike was gone.

I text my landlord to ask if he’d perhaps moved it or knew what happened to it, but his phone was off.

I figured it had probably been stolen, and I got on with my day, including visiting the police station to file a report.

The Investigation

I started looking on the Facebook buy/sell groups – knowing that they’re a common place for dodgy activity, including fencing stolen goods.

At 6:30pm, I was on my way home, when my request to join one of the groups was approved – and there it was – my bike is a distinct orange – and here was a seller selling an orange bike of the same make.

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I added a comment indicated I was interested in buying the bike. I also wanted him to post pictures, so I could confirm it was my bike.

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Here’s the photo that he referenced:

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He’s posted a stock store photo taken from the internet. Apparently he doesn’t have camera. This is suspicious – who doesn’t have a camera these days?

(The blanked out profile is a third, uninvolved person).

Also – lets note the seller’s profile – it’s pretty empty – no profile picture, no activity.

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I private message him to arrange purchase of the bike.

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We arrange to meet at 9:30pm, outside a shop in the middle of town. This suits me, as it’s close the central police station – and it isn’t too isolated. The meet is to take place in two hours.

I contact the police at the police station – explain what’s happening and they ask me to come into the police station with my phone to show them the conversation.

The Plan

I catch the bus in, this takes about thirty minutes.

At the police station, we go over what’s happened again. The woman cop I’m talking to explains that they need to first be sure that I own the bike, and this bike is infact mine.

She takes photos of the conversations and Facebook threads.

She asks if I have any photos of the bike. As it is – the only photo of the bike I’ve taken is this one from my instagram – when I’d broken it.

Fml 😦

A post shared by Messes I make. (@messes.i.make) on

I look through my Facebook photos, perhaps I took a photo when I bought the bike, but there’s none there.

I do find emails in my email account from the Trade Me transaction buying the bike, and a couple of service jobs.

The cop seems satisfied that I do own an orange Avanti bike.

At this point, it’s about 9:30, the time I’m meant to be meeting this guy.

The cop tells me to go meet the guy, they’ll park around the corner, and I’m to text them to confirm it’s mine.

I message the guy to say I’m running late, and I’m bit nervous that he’s going to be spooked and leave before I meet him.

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As I walk to the meeting place, about ten minutes away, I think about how I’m going to lead him to the police. What if he’s parked around the corner in a dodgy car park? What if he insists on me handing over cash before I see the bike? My plan is tell him I need to go to an ATM for cash, and lead him to the police that way – but that’s not going to work if he’s insisting on cash up front.

The Sting

I get there, and two guys are sitting in a car and they signal me.

The guy in the passenger seat gets out. It’s a small, young guy, who seems a little familiar, I might have met him before at the accommodation I live at. My fears that I might be beaten up by some hard gangsters are alleviated.

He opens the boot, and sure enough, it’s my bike.

I tell him, ‘I just gotta text my friend’, and text the cop that it’s my bike.

We get it out, and I examine. I ask to ride the bike for a bit, and he’s a little nervous that I’m going to ride off with it, but lets me.

I ride the bike for a bit, and express excitement about getting a sweet bike.

I tell him that I gotta get money from an ATM, and does he want to walk with me there.

I pause to text the cop the license plate of the car. I’m worried that it looks suspicious, especially as I have to turn to look at the number plate twice. And is he looking at my phone to see what I’m texting?

Evidently not – he walks with me, me walking the bike toward the ATM.

I don’t even see the cops until they’re right in front us, and they want to chat to him about the sale of this bike.

He quickly confesses to them – that he used to live at the accommodation it was stolen from, (without any prompting from the cops about where it was stolen from), that it was his friend who cut the chain with bolt cutters and loaded in to this guy’s car.

After a bit, the cops ask me if I want to make a complaint (I do) and tell me to walk the bike back to police station, where I make a statement.

When the statement is complete, I ride the bike, without helmet or lights or a lock (they’re missing) back home – I have my bike back. At this time it’s about 11pm, about four and a half hours after first seeing the Facebook post.

Aftermath

I’ll write a separate aftermath post later as more details come out.

When I was at the station – the police asked me if instead of sending him formally through the court system – I was ok with an alternative community justice/mediation. I said yes – as I am of the belief that the formal criminal justice system isn’t particularly effective at rehabilitation – which also seemed to be the sentiment of the police.

But also – I do get a kind of jaded feeling with this experience- where it feels like the police aren’t that interested in comprehensively following up crimes. This is a post for another time.

The police didn’t catch up with the guy who remained in the car that night.

The guy was likely a guy who’d been kicked out of the accommodation, a couple of weeks earlier for breaking a window.

I received an email today from the police saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with the case – but I’m wondering if that’s a form letter to do with the initial theft report – and not arrest that was made – we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

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Lessons Learned

  • It is possible to get your items back if you act quickly. This guy clearly wanted to make a quick sale – and had I dawdled about it – a sale would have been made to someone else the item would have been gone.
  • In New Zealand you can contact *555 to reach a police operator – even for non-traffic items.
  • Even without police support – it would have been possible to get the item back. In this case I could have just ridden off with it and I doubt they could have or would have done anything about it. It’s up to you to assess whether that would be a safe option.
  • Don’t delete your emails. A week early, as part of ‘being organised’ I emptied my inbox – sent a lot of emails to the trash – including the Trade Me and bike servicing receipts. Luckily the trash hadn’t been cleared – and the emails were recoverable – because they served to be important in proving that the bike was mine.