Police Association fears Killer Beez, Tribesmen feud will escalate to shoot-out

Katie Todd and Rayssa Almeida for RNZ

The Police Association has laid the blame for shootings in Auckland and several scraps in the Far North squarely at the feet of the Tribesmen and Killer Beez gangs.

Association president Chris Cahill said the gun violence stemmed from a years-long rivalry between the gangs - the Killer Beez once being a feeder gang to the Tribesmen.

While police had seized a record number of firearms, it would take a long time to get back on top of armed crime, he said.

"Without a doubt police have to be out there doing the search warrant, stopping the vehicles, searching them and getting the guns. And they are doing that.

"Police have seized a record number of firearms, but as I've said many times before - that genie has got out of the bottle and there are so many fire arms out there that it's going to take a lot of time to get back on top of that."

Cahill said his biggest concern was if the gangs ended up confronting each other and having a shoot-out.

"It's a matter of getting these people together to agree that this is out of control. They are putting themselves at risk, their whānau at risk and the communities at risk. It's really concerning for these communities that these houses are getting shot."

Greg Newbold, who was a prison inmate before becoming an emeritus criminology professor at the University of Canterbury, said the latest spate shootings was "probably the worst series of incidents of its type" that he could remember.

"I don't ever recall so much shooting going on in such a short period of time."

The exact cause remained a mystery - it could be about money, territory or women, he said.

What was known was the fraught relationship between the two gangs involved.

The Killer Beez began about two decades ago as an offshoot of the Tribesmen, but their relationship crumbled as the Killer Beez gradually gained power and influence.

Sources told Checkpoint the issue came to a head because Killer Beez president Josh Masters wanted to control both gangs.

The seargent-at-arms of the Tribesmen was Akustino Tae, who had recruited Masters at a young age.

And in April 2019, Tae decided to strike first, before anything could happen, shooting Masters in the spinal cord at a Harley Davidson dealers.

He turned his former friend of 25 years into a paraplegic.

While Tae handed himself into police and was sentenced to seven years in jail, the severed relationship between the two gangs has never recovered.

Whatever the exact cause of the latest flare-up, Newbold took the optimistic view that the two gangs would be able to sort it out, and eventually come to an arrangement.

However, firearms seemed to be featuring more frequently in gang disputes, and that could be the result of 501 deportees from Australia, he said.

"When we've got these guys coming over from Australia with their pretty hardcore attitudes, I think it's affected the overall gang environment in this country.

"I'm not sure the Killer Beez or the Tribesmen have got many 501s in them but the general scene has changed, definitely, as a result of these deportees arriving in New Zealand and setting up shop."

At the same time, gang numbers have been growing for years.

A government briefing in 2019 noted that gang members had doubled in recent years, to almost 7000.

Security expert Chris Kumeroa explained Covid-19 pressures had exacerbated that spike.

"Last year you saw an increase of 800 patches, so that's fairly alarming. I guess in light of deprivation and the desire to want to fit in, as more and more people become unemployed or distressed, that may be an easy option," he said.

Residents in fear

In Auckland, two more houses were shot at last night after multiple drive-by shootings the night before.

Houses were fired at in Massey and Mellons Bay last night, following seven shootings on Tuesday.

Residents said they had not seen such a spate of gun crime before - and they were wondering who was next.

The quiet neighbourhood of Massey in West Auckland woke up to a crime scene.

A resident, who did not want to be identified, said the noise he heard was very clear.

"I just heard the bangs, about seven shots. It was not a car back firing, it wasn't fireworks. It was definitely shots."

In the South East suburb of Mellons Bay, a woman who did not want to be named said the frequency of the shootings in the past week was what worries them most.

"We heard the gunshots last night, we assumed that's what they were. It's worrying because it's happening to much".

The shootings and drive-bys were frightening the families in the area, she said.

"It's obviously very scary for people living in the area, especially if you have young children. It's happening too often".

A neighbour, who did not want to be identified, contacted her family right after hearing the shots.

"It made me concerned enough to call my daughter and say can you pick him [a member of the family] out of school, because I did not want him walking past".

Tensions flare in the north

Tensions between the Killer Beez and the Tribesmen have also flared in recent weeks in the far north town of Kaikohe.

District councillor Moko Tepania said it was frightening for local residents.

"It's been real tit for tat. We had a massive gang brawl in broad daylight in the middle of our town centre. Following that, then we had gunshots by one of the main schools in this town. Just this week there's been gunshots in the middle of the night."

The police have seized guns, drugs and thousands of dollars in cash and made dozens of arrests in Kaikohe, in their efforts to quell gang tensions.

In March, having responded to four gang-related incidents in three days, they made 11 arrests on firearms and drug-related charges, and pledged to bolster their presence.

Last month they made another four arrests, while carrying out search warrant targeting associates of the Tribesmen.

But Tepania said Kaikohe residents knew police resources only went so far, and they would not be able to stop every violent outburst.

The five local hapū were planning a hīkoi through town on Friday to let gangs know exactly how fed up they were.

"There is fear in this community that innocent bystanders are going to get caught up in the middle of this bloody gang brawl for starters. But there's also a sentiment of hoha. This community's over it now. Enough's enough," Tepania said.