Gang crackdown: New national unit established

By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has revealed a specialised National Gang Unit to tackle gang crime across the country will be established.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. (Source: 1News)

Speaking from the Auckland Central Police Station, Coster announced the establishment of a National Gang Unit and District Disruption Units to target crime, harm and intimidation caused by gangs.

“The National Gang Unit will be established as a continuation of our work, and build our operational capability further,” he said.

There were no targets, and was to be funded by a mix of reprioritised and new investment.

Coster said incoming legislation will provide police with more tools to ensure communities feel safe.

He said the unit would work with police districts and other gang units across the country to focus on the policing of gang events.

“New Zealand is still one of the safest places to live, but the changing gang landscape means that police will continue to adapt to tackle these challenges head-on.

“We want to deliver the best results for our communities.”

Coster said the unit would likely be made up of between 25 and 30 people, as well as district teams of around seven people per unit.

Police Minister Mark Mitchell said the announced changes were “clamping down on the serious gang problem we have in New Zealand”.

He cited the fatal shooting of Robert Sidney Horne last weekend on Ponsonby Rd by Killer Beez gang member Hone Kay-Selwyn.

“We’re not putting up with it any more and we have a big programme as the incoming government around public safety.”

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and Police Minister Mark Mitchell speak in Auckland.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and Police Minister Mark Mitchell speak in Auckland. (Source: 1News)

He said the Government had given police additional powers to crack down on gangs, including banning gang patches in public places and giving police extra powers to stop gang members congregating.

“We want to send out a very clear message; if you continue to peddle drugs, if you continue to perpetuate violent sexual offending in our community and if you continue to break the law and think you’re above the law, then under this Government things are going to change radically.

“These gang disruption units that are going to be based in the districts, are going to be very effective in making sure that if a gang member, or a gang, pops their head above the parapet, then police are going to have a strong response to deal with that.”

Mitchell said he wants “resources on the front line”.

“We have a plan to recruit 500 additional police and we’re giving them powers to crack down on gang offending, introducing legislation to ban all gang insignia in public, create greater powers to stop criminal gangs from gathering in groups and communicating, and give greater weight to gang membership at sentencing,” he said.

Once the unit was established, the work of Operation Cobalt would continue through it.

The National Gang Unit will be in place by July 1.

Labour says National’s gang crime approach a ‘rebrand’

Labour’s police spokesperson Ginny Andersen said Mitchell had “rolled the Commissioner out for a rebrand of their [National’s] approach to gang crime”.

In a statement, Andersen recapped the work Labour had done while in power to try and tackle the issue.

“I’m glad the strong law enforcement focus on gangs under Operation Cobalt and Tauwhiro will be embedded into each Police District. This was supported and funded by Labour,” Andersen said.

“Labour also funded the National Gang Unit. It was called the National Organised Crime Group. In 2022, we invested $94.5m to support the Government’s cross-agency response to organised crime, including through the Resilience to Organised Crime in Communities programme, Transnational Organised Crime Strategy and programmes focused on preventing the harm to New Zealand communities caused and exacerbated by drugs, firearms violence and serious criminal offences.”

Andersen said — unlike Labour — National had put no extra resources today into tackling gangs and organised crime, all with police pay negotiations “still unresolved after six months”.

“Just like they won’t pay police properly for the extra work they’re asking them to do.

“Mark Mitchell couldn’t say how many people would be in what he says are ‘new’ units, what they would do or how they would be funded — this is a rebrand of Labour’s approach, not anything new.”

Govt’s ‘misguided’ gang policy will ‘fail’ – Greens

The Greens police spokesperson Tamatha Paul said: “The Government’s misguided policy on gangs will fail.”

She said gangs thrive where poverty and a lack of opportunity are present.

“Liveable incomes, employment and education opportunities, good housing — these are the things that truly crack down on gang membership.”

Paul also said the state created gangs through trauma inflicted on tamariki in state care “and by keeping communities impoverished”.

“Meeting trauma with punishment isn’t going to work,” she said.

“Recent cases of gang violence and crime will be scary for communities. But letting loose the police on steroids is not going to address the problem of organised crime, prevent violence, or keep people safe.

‘Deeply unsettling’ – Police Minister reacts to Ponsonby shooting

“Being more proactive about addressing gang activity shouldn’t include taking measures which inflame tensions with gangs, are practically unworkable and also take away police resources from other priority areas.

“We need action to address the underlying drivers of crime and what causes people to join gangs in the first place, not more of the same simplistic solutions that we know do not work, and ultimately see the cycle of crime continue.”

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