The sun was shining as Oamaru locals were out enjoying our town over the weekend.
Whether it was getting belted with colour at the annual Rainbow Run at the Oamaru Racecourse, enjoying the show at the travelling Extravaganza fair or having a picnic at Friendly Bay, the town was heaving with people out and about embracing the arrival of the sun after a long winter.
I love the name “Friendly Bay”. It reflects our town, our values and reminds the community of how we want to be, and the way we want the world to see us.
However, it pains me to admit, there is now a very real threat to this idyllic picture, and the safety of our community with an increase of vandalism, methamphetamine-related crime and gangs in the region.
Just last week the whitestone “Oamaru” sign which welcomes all to our town was defaced with graffiti, while the public gardens were this week’s target. This type of widespread reckless disdain for our society and its property hasn’t been seen in our town and we must fight back together to protect what we all hold dear.
We can no longer ignore the disturbing increase of methamphetamine, and drug-related crime which is now tearing a hole in the social fabric of our community. The number of arrests related to methamphetamine in Oamaru has risen rapidly over the past year, with 19 in 2018, and another 12 in the first six months of this year – a significant jump from just one in 2017.
Local police have admitted there is a region-wide problem, which is in line with the rest of the country, but its rapid saturation has come as a wake-up call and a shock to this area.
It’s been reported that social service agencies in Oamaru claim the full extent of the problem is worse than the statistics show, while family court lawyers have reported an alarming increase in domestic cases involving methamphetamine over the past two years.
Police have also revealed there has been a 61.9% increase in gang members in the Southern police district between October 2017 and 31 August 2019. I have no doubt there is a link between this and the soaring amount of crime in the area.
Drugs are a scourge on our society, with every aspect of community affected with its poison.
We mustn’t allow it to gain a foothold in Oamaru and the wider North Otago and Waitaki district.
Local police need all the support and resources they can get to try and combat the criminals who are so recklessly destroying our town.
This makes the Government’s recent backdown on their promise of an additional 1800 new police officers across the country by next year even harder to accept.
With gang membership on the rise, the number of police on the beat and public safety should be a priority, however this Government has delivered yet another broken promise.
I commend Oamaru police for the work they’ve done so far to crack down on this very real threat to our community and for doing their best to keep our town safe.
Meanwhile, I will continue do my part in Parliament by keeping the police minister aware of the increasing problem in our area and urge for more support for police and social services who are desperately trying to combat it.
People of Oamaru, this is not us.
We cannot allow this epidemic to overcome our region.
I will not stand by as we sink into a community we no longer recognise.
Please look out for each other, our town, and support the police as they work towards a better future for our town.