Government's 'soft on crime' approach leading to huge rise in gang numbers - Simon Bridges

National Party leader Simon Bridges says the Government has been too soft on crime and it's led to a growth in gang numbers.

Data provided from New Zealand police to Police Minister Stuart Nash, then to National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell shows as of August 31, 2019, there were 6729 patched or prospect gang members in New Zealand.

That's a 25.9 percent rise from October 2017, when there were 5343 patched or prospect gang members in New Zealand.

"I've got a very clear view, gangs aren't friendly motorcycle clubs who simply go out for Sunday afternoon rides, they peddle misery in the form of drugs and violence," Bridges told Newshub.

He said he believes Labour has been focussing on the wrong areas in crime, allowing the gangs to grow and get bolder.

"I certainly think it's true the Government shares the blame, they've been overly focused on reducing prison numbers and they've also sent a clear message that they're soft on crime.

"Whether it's opposing changes we've put up to firearms laws to get the gangs guns, whether its a range of other things that they've done that show... they want people out of prisons and they're not particularly interested in victims of crime."

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis' plans to bring the prison population down 30 percent over the next 15 years.

"I came into politics to make a difference for our people, our Māori people, and the incarceration rate of our people is something that cannot be tolerated anymore," Davis told Newshub Nation in May, announcing a $98 million "kaupapa Māori" initiative to help prisoners make their current stay behind bars, their last.

But Bridges described the approach as an "over-focus" on reducing prison numbers, when they should instead be cracking down.

"Their soft on crime approach, whether it's around an over-focus on reducing prison numbers, going soft on things like gangs and guns, these things have had an impact."

Nash disputes National's suggestion the Government is getting away with anything, telling RNZ Bridges' claims "don't stand up to scrutiny".

"A large part of the growth in gang numbers can be traced to criminals deported from Australia. Since 2015, 1800 offenders have returned - almost 1200 of those have returned since 2017."

On top of that, Nash says the Government has been increasing the police presence, bringing 10 percent more officers since 2017.

"Seven hundred officers will be specifically assigned to crime prevention and organised crime and gangs.

"Since 2017 police have seized cash and assets of more than $100 million from gangs. This sends a powerful message to gangs that crime does not pay and they will not profit from their offending."

Newshub has contacted Nash for comment.