'We're at a precipice': NZ's gang problem worst it's been in decades - Black Power member

A Black Power life member says the country's gang problem is the worst it's been in decades.

As tensions between rival gangs rise, Black Power life member Denis O'Reilly says members need to step up and take responsibility for their actions.

"We're at a precipice, we're at a tipping point - this is as serious as we've had it for 30 years," O'Reilly told The AM Show on Friday. 

There have been numerous gang-related incidents this year, particularly in the Hawke's Bay, many involving firearms.

Earlier this month, multiple shots were fired during a brawl involving around 40 members from Black Power and the Mongrel Mob in Taradale, Napier.

Following that incident, police and politicians held a public meeting to address locals about the ongoing violence.

O'Reilly likened gang warfare to a virus that needed to be treated at its source, saying "it's a bit like coronavirus - it sort of springs up".

"International best practice says that we should treat gun violence as a contagion, treat it as a public health issue and get back to, where was the core, what was the incident that triggered it, who's been infected, set up a cordon sanitaire, get people in there to try and solve it - but we no longer have those community development resources."

He blamed the country's gang problem on various social issues - such as a lack of investment in youth development programmes - and an inundation of Kiwis with gang links being deported from Australia, the so-called 501s.

Also to blame was the influence of TV shows and popular culture.

"People think that life is Netflix or online, and you can change channels and turn it off with no consequences. And unfortunately, real life has consequences."

Many people in gangs had been victims of abuse while in state care in their youth, he said. 

"The two major Māori gangs came out of that. The state corrupted their view of life, it said violence was okay, because that's what was done upon them so we trained them in that. And then through the prison system, which is a dehumanising thing."

O'Reilly said if the situation is going to get better, gang members need to step up to the plate.

"I appeal to every person who's got any influence whatsoever, whether it be red or blue or whether you be in the 501s - this is serious, we need to look after our whanaus, stand up for our land and just assume leadership.

"At the end of the day we're all related to each other. And if you've got a beef there are ways to work it out - on the field, in the ring, whatever."

He added that others in society also need to believe that gang members have the capacity to be good people, to "believe that they can be good dads, believe that they can be good sons, believe that they can be good brothers and they can be trustworthy New Zealanders".

With gang-related incidents on the rise, the issue is increasingly becoming political.

According to police figures released last year the total number of patched gang members has risen by 26 percent since October 2017.

Last year, Opposition leader Simon Bridges proposed forming a specialist police taskforce to "tackle gang crime". The proposed force would have the ability to shut down gang clubhouses, require gang pads to have liquor licences and look into members' finances.

But O'Reilly said politicising the issue wouldn't work . 

"It doesn't matter which party is in power, they're all going to face this thing so let's calm down, step back from the precipice and let's try and dialogue our way through this."