7 Jun 2022

Gang law options considered as shootings continue - Police Minister

1:23 pm on 7 June 2022

The government is considering more measures to disrupt gangs after a series of shootings, with Police Minister Poto Williams saying all options are on the table.

Labour MP and police minister Poto Williams

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The National Party has floated the prospect of Australian-style laws banning bikies from wearing insignia or meeting in public.

National's leader Christopher Luxon said gang violence was out of control, and the situation had changed.

"The situation has changed dramatically and what we're seeing is an intensity and an aggression and criminality that we haven't seen before.

"We woke up, New Zealand, again this morning to another shooting issue here in this country - so that's not normal, that's not the New Zealand that we all grew up in, that we know.

"We have to acknowledge that New Zealanders aren't feeling safe in their communities at the moment. We've seen a 21 percent increase in violent crime, we've seen a 40 percent plus increase in gang membership."

Auckland-based Labour MP Willie Jackson said he was hearing concerns about the violence from across the community.

"A lot of worry out there. I mean, we're all worried about what's happening in Auckland, I am working closely with our ministers and I've had ex gang members get in touch with me, and leadership, who've all got different ideas."

Williams had it under control, working in tandem with police, he said.

"I think we're doing enough, I do, but this is at a scale that we've never seen before ... I'm worried about our communities because this tit-for-tat stuff I haven't seen it before. It's unprecedented in terms of the different gangs, so we're watching it very closely.

"We've got ministers on this every day, so I'm comfortable with the level of work going out from our Minister of Police."

Williams herself said she would not rule out adopting similar measures to Australia's, but the legislative changes would have to be specific to New Zealand.

"While the Australian work is interesting to look at, we are in a different context here so it would have to be fit for purpose to us," she said.

"I think they're all worth looking at, I don't think we should rule anything out."

She said New Zealand's gun laws were far more relaxed compared to Australia's, and the firearms register set to be implemented in about a year would be a "really important" feature of increasing safeguards.

"And along with that are tightening up some of the issues that sit around that ... we're working on that right now so ministers are wanting to progress that as quickly as we can."

"Ministers of Justice, Corrections, Oranga Tamariki, all of us are looking at not just the issue of gangs, [but] how we keep people out of gangs; what we do to disrupt gangs as much as we can; the tools we can give police to do their work better."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said part of the focus was on the seizure of assets.

"The way that organised crime operates is changing and we have to change with it ... we've been working on that one for some time," she said.

While the government's work on the issue dated from before the latest violence, ministers were aware of it and were taking it into account.

"That criminal proceeds area is one that we've been looking at for some time. We're not quite ready to talk about the outcome of that but what it's an indication of is that we're constantly scanning our horizon."

Earlier this morning, she told Morning Report police were also very focused on gangs, and doing what works.

"The week ending on 27 May - just for that week and specific to these tensions - they had 10 arrests, they've seized firearms, 250 rounds of ammunition, 10 warrants executed.

"We've had 500 firearms seizures this year. Getting firearms registered in New Zealand - even Chris Cahill from the Police Association says it'll be one of the things that make the biggest difference, we're also doing firearm prevention orders as well. We are constantly looking at the landscape."

She said the government was not yet ready to reveal the details of further measures to prevent gang violence, but suggested aspects of the Australian laws may not be appropriate.

"My lens will always be 'will it make a difference' ... but again let's keep in mind some of these shootings don't require large gatherings to be a problem so let's not be too narrow in our focus."

Luxon offered some specific suggestions.

"We really want to see firearm prohibition orders that have warrantless search powers so that police can go after illegal guns. We also want to see a dedicated gang unit - I think most New Zealanders would be surprised we don't have one - that can actually deal with infringements.

"The third thing we've talked about is reviewing the police pursuit policy, and it's been good to see last week that the police commissioner is up for that as well ... we're very interested in also exploring what else we can do."

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