National MP Simon Bridges has lashed out at Police Commissioner Andrew Coster, labelling him a "wokester", which the Prime Minister has described as "very strange".
Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday Bridges' comments were a "very strange departure from the convention we've had, which is of course to acknowledge the constabulary and independence" of the police.
Bridges described Coster as a "wokester" on Twitter after the police announced Operation Tauwhiro, a nationwide plan to crack down on guns held by organised crime groups and gangs.
The nationwide operation was launched after several shootings across the country involving gangs. But Bridges doesn't think Coster is taking a tough enough approach and is focusing too much on the wellbeing of criminals.
"With this softly softly [sic] approach from our wokester commissioner, expect gang and gun violence to continue to worsen," Bridges wrote on Twitter.
When asked on Tuesday why he called Coster a "wokester", Bridges said: "Because he is. I think there's a bunch of things he's done where he's wanting to put being nice and a variety of things ahead of the law of the land and catching criminals."
Bridges said he does not think his comments about Coster being a "wokester" were inappropriate.
"No, not when he is."
Coster often speaks about the importance of the police's social mandate, and how police cannot "arrest their way" out of the organised crime problem.
"Well actually it's not a legislative consideration," said Bridges. "In the annual report they set out quite clearly the things that legislatively they must do - they include, for example, crime prevention and a bunch of things related to that.
"But what he then does in the next breath is make quite clear that actually, that sort of wider sense of policing by consent, making sure he's being nice to everyone, is just as or more important to him. Well actually, that's not the law. I don't think it's his role and I think he's out of place doing that.
"Always there's a role for it but this guy has got that balance wrong in my view."
Coster said he couldn't comment on Bridges' remarks.
"It's not appropriate for me to comment on that but what I can say is I'm committed to doing the things that will make the biggest difference to make our communities actually safe."
Ardern said the former National Party leader's comments were not fair, but she acknowledged that the Police Commissioner is not above criticism.
"No, not at all, but you'll notice that of course we acknowledge the operational independence of the police - both political parties always have - so to have a personal attack on the commissioner in that way is a bit of a departure from convention but also unwarranted," she said.
"I don't know what the commissioner has done to be a target by the Opposition in that way. I think it's unfair."
Since October 2017, the number of gang members on the national gang list has increased by 2264.
Police Association President Chris Cahill welcomed the police nationwide initiative to crack down on gangs, which will be carried out across all 12 police districts over the next six months.
"We have been unrelenting in warning of the escalating dangers to officers and the community with the influx of gang members deported from Australia, the proliferation of illegal firearms, growing inter-gang tensions, and, underlying it all, the increasing availability of methamphetamine."
Cahill said he agrees with Coster that the are multiple reasons for the existence and proliferation of gangs.
"Successive family, health, educational and social failures in their lives are the drivers for many people now in gangs throughout the country. However, the reality for many other Kiwis is that these gangs present a growing discomfort, if not an outright danger, and that has to be addressed."
He said most of the illicit firearms in New Zealand have been stolen from legitimate gun owners rather than being illegally imported, but there is also evidence of licenced gun owners buying firearms and on-selling them on the black market.
The Government banned military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles in the wake of the March 15, 2019 Christchurch terror attack, and by June 2020 a second tranche of gun law reforms had been passed in Parliament.
Among tougher penalties for possessing an illegal firearm and reduced length of gun licences, the new reforms included a ban on further "high-risk firearms" including short (pistol-length) semi-automatic rifles.