Simmering tensions in the Hawke's Bay have boiled over into violence, with recent brawls and shootings across the region.
A fight between dozens of Mongrel Mob and Black Power members in the Napier suburb of Taradale left shotgun pellets in a man's face - and pellets in a child's car seat. That same weekend, shots were fired in a gang-related incident in Ruatoria.
It's added fuel to the National Party's calls for a gang crackdown, as it gears up to run on a law and order campaign in the upcoming 2020 election.
"Gangs are doing huge damage to our communities. Nobody should be made to feel unsafe in their homes and communities. They peddle misery, violence and drugs," Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell told Newshub.
But the Mongrel Mob is defending itself. Newshub spoke to Mongrel Mob Kingdom member Paula Ormsby, who's setting up New Zealand's first network for women - Mongrel Mob Wāhine Toa. She says National's proposals are "just about getting votes" and will further harm marginalised people.
What are National's gang proposals?
National is set to announce its full gang plan before the election, however a law and order discussion document released last year contained several gang-related proposals.
So far, these include:
- Banning all gang patches in public places
- Giving police more powers to search homes and cars of gang members for guns
- Forming a specialist anti-gang police taskforce
- Creating new sentences for violent gang crime
- Blocking gang members from benefits
- Removing parole for offenders who are members of gangs
- Removing concurrent sentencing option in some circumstances
- Increasing penalties for young offenders of serious crime
- Increasing penalties for synthetic drug suppliers
"National believes firmly in the social investment approach. This means having wrap-around services to support people to lead better lives through better education and health," Mitchell told Newshub.
"We want people to be supported so they don't join gangs in the first place and so they can leave easily if they do. It's important to be tough on the gangs but it's also important to have rehabilitation for those who are serious about it. We'll do a combination of both."
What is the Mongrel Mob's response to National's proposals?
Blocking gang members from benefits
If National takes power after the election, the party will block gang members from receiving a benefit if they can't prove they don't have illegal income or assets.
"As a Crown prosecutor, I saw first-hand the misery gangs peddle," Bridges said when he announced the proposed policy.
"As Prime Minister, I'll make sure gangs can't exploit taxpayers."
But Ormsby warns this is going to affect a whole lot of different people, not just gang members themselves.
"You don't see very often just a single Mongrel Mob or gang member. There's families completely connected to that," Ormsby told Newshub.
"Some are looking after their parents, others their partner, their children and so when what your doing is your targeting whole families. And these are already a targeted, discriminated, marginalised group and it's just going to make it tougher for them."
Strike Force Raptor
National has proposed forming a specialist police taskforce to "tackle gang crime" if elected in 2020.
This would be similar to the New South Wales' Strike Force Raptor police unit, which was established in 2009 to crack down on gangs.
The National Party wants New Zealand's version to have the ability to shut down gang clubhouses, require gang pads to have liquor licenses, and look into members' finances.
"We've proposed a unit like Strike Force Raptor in Australia where gangs are harassed and disrupted every day. Even the most minor infringements would be dealt with by Raptor," Mitchell told Newshub.
However the New South Wales taskforce has run into controversy, including accusations against a member of intense intimidation and stalking, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
"Looking at Strike Force Raptor, [I] did some research around it and basically in Australia it's been a fail. The gang numbers increased during the Strike Force Raptor [period]," Ormsby told Newshub.
"Raptor 13, the guy Raptor 13, where he was just bullying and tormenting people to the point of complete unprofessionalism. I'd be really concerned about that, particularly with this tough on crime [approach]."
Banning gang patches
National is in favour of banning gang patches and insignia in public places, saying the rights of the community to feel safe "far outweigh anything else".
"Gang patches cause fear and intimidation and we don't want that in our communities," Mitchell told Newshub.
"The law we made to ban patches in government buildings has worked well and this would be an extension of that."
However Ormsby told Newshub this goes too far.
"Banning gang patches, you're taking away an identity of somebody. And many of the members would say 'look, it's not the patch that defines me', but again it's a basic human right to be able to have expression," she argues.
What's behind the proposals?
There's no doubt that a large section of the public support National's proposals, and concern grows as the cycle of gang violence and retaliation spills over into public areas.
"We've had a huge response from the community about this," Mitchell told Newshub.
"Taradale is an example - this is not a community that has previously had gang violence. But with numbers exploding by 1400 since Labour came in, it's no wonder the problem is reaching far and wide."
But Ormsby thinks its "just about getting votes to be honest".
"People like Simon Bridges, they don't have people at heart and gangs are a direct effect from the colonisation and assimilation of this country," she told Newshub.
And appearing on The AM Show following the release of National Party's law and order discussion document, Newshub Political Editor Tova O'Brien pointed out cracking down on gangs was an "easy hit" both with National Party voters and New Zealand First voters.
"We know that traditionally and historically in New Zealand that plays well with voters. That is why the Labour Party has done it before and acted on it. The National Party has done it before and acted on it," she said.
"That is part of the National Party's game plan to try and stifle [New Zealand First] going into the election year."
The Mongrel Mob moves forward
Ormsby says recent gang-related gun violence does not represent the Mongrel Mob's values.
"Believe it or not, the Mongrel Mob - we've got a code, and it's an old-school code. Guns were never a part of that code. It wasn't about shooting people. If you had a problem with somebody it was the old-fashioned - you know, get the dukes out, you know, not a gun," she told Newshub.
"With international circles coming in to New Zealand, they bought with that their ways of doing things, so I think times have changed there."
The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom is moving forward with a reformation of gang culture under Chapter Rangatira Sonny Fatupaito. Ormsby accepts other gangs - and other Mongrel Mob chapters - aren't as progressive, but believes change can come within and a crackdown will only make things worse.
"There's been a massive shift in paradigm. The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom has shifted. We are the absolute opposite to what some people in society think a gang is," Ormsby says.
"A lot of New Zealanders, because gangs have been behind the gates, behind the doors, the only view they get of gangs is what the media gives them."