Police face new challenge as organised crime moves to the regions

Organised crime is shifting to small-town New Zealand, but it won't be as visible as you might think.

The 'changing face of organised crime' is the central theme of a police conference underway in Wellington today.

Police Minister Stuart Nash, says it's time we update our image of what gang members look like. 

"We're not just talking about the yobbos wearing patches, we're also talking about lawyers and accountants who are laundering gang money," says Nash. 

Gangs make an estimated $500million a year from the meth trade.

Gang expert Jarrod Gilbert says that lucrative business is just one reason membership has grown in recent years. And that was a problem highlighted at today's Police Association conference.

"The latest figures show a 26 percent increase in gang numbers in the last two years," says Chris Cahill, president of the Police Association.

That's almost 1400 new members - and an increasing number are heading to the regions.

The Eastern and Bay of Plenty police districts have the most gang members - with 1041 and 1038 individuals.

But Tasman and Southern have had the largest increases since 2017.

Tasman is up 82 percent to 124 gang members, and Southland is up 78 percent, to 212. 

Police Association Director for Tasman and Canterbury Mike McRandle says housing affordability is a factor.

"A lot of people have moved out of metro areas because of cost," he says.

And with police recruitment lagging in Southland and Tasman, it will take a national approach to tackle this problem.

"It may be that we have to bring in some additional national resources for a period of time into those provincial centres to target that crime," says Cahill.

And the Government is vowing to boost resources - though it admits it may not hit the 1800 mark for additional new recruits by next year.

It still plans to funnel 700 of those new officers into tackling organised crime.