Simon Bridges fears the police are being influenced by politicians and is urging the Police Commissioner to "guard against politicisation" of the police force.
The leader of the Opposition was responding to news that a right-wing activist's Auckland home was raided last week by half a dozen police officers over suspicion he held an illegal firearm.
"What has happened is plain wrong," Bridges told Magic Talk's Peter Williams. "This guy on the face of it has done nothing wrong... There are gangs and real extremists in this country."
Dieuwe de Boer, co-founder of the website Right Minds NZ, posted an article about the raid of his home, on the suspicion he had a prohibited magazine for a .22 lever-action rifle.
No firearms were uncovered in the raid and police said they are continuing to make inquiries.
The raid sparked outrage from the likes of ACT leader David Seymour who said it was "absurd"; and Nicole McKee, a spokesperson for gun lobby group the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO), described it as "the new normal" in New Zealand.
It followed the Government's ban last year of military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles after the March 15 Christchurch massacre. Further changes to the Arms Act are going through the select committee process.
Bridges described the firearms ban and buyback scheme as a "quiet fiasco" and suggested the Government is influencing the police to prioritise it over issues he feels are more pressing, like gang violence.
"I do - and I don't want to get into conspiracy theories - worry about the politicisation of the police," Bridges said. "I think they have to be scrupulously independent."
The National Party leader said he's seen top police officers having coffee with ministers in the Beehive in Wellington and said it "worries" him.
Williams asked Bridges if Judith Collins did the same thing when she was Police Minister under the former National-led Government.
"I don't know," Bridges replied, "but I'll tell you what I do think: we need to be scrupulous in guarding against that and ensuring that there is a separation.
"To the police, I say quite clearly: Mike Bush, you guard against politicisation of your force. It's too precious to do otherwise."
Police Commissioner Mike Bush responded by pushing back against Bridges' claims.
"I can assure the New Zealand public that all operational decisions are made independently of any political inference," he told Newshub. "There are no exceptions to this, including matters that are currently in the media."
A statement from Police Minister Stuart Nash's office said the minister must remain at arm's length from police enforcement and investigations, and that police operate independently when seeking search warrants.
It's not the first time the gun buyback scheme has been criticised by the Opposition.
In November, Labour MPs erupted in protest at an annual police review after National MP Brett Hudson suggested the Police Commissioner was complicit in "criminalising thousands of law-abiding New Zealanders".
Bridges said he felt the raid on de Boer's home was "heavy-handed" and that the police should focus on "things 99 percent of New Zealanders would say is the right things - the gangs and so on".
If elected in 2020, National is considering copying an Australian state by forming a high-level 'Strike Force Raptor' police taskforce that would "tackle gang crime".
The idea sparked some hilarious Twitter memes and jibes from the likes of Labour MP and minister Iain Lees-Galloway. But Bridges is standing by the proposal.
"The Labour Party can sneer in the liberal way that they do, but I think we do need a Strike Force Raptor-type unit," Bridges told Magic Talk.
"Gangs are causing untold harm and they are getting their claws into lower and middle New Zealand."
Figures provided in July 2019 by the Police Minister showed gang membership had increased by about 22 percent in two years, from 5343 in late-2017 to 6534 in mid-2017.