'Raid their premises:' Judith Collins call for tougher action on gangs

National Party leader Judith Collins has blamed the Government for a "huge" and "frightening" increase in the number of gang members.

But an expert on Kiwi gangs has slammed the statistics she's using as "shonky".

According to figures released by National on Wednesday, there are now almost 7825 gang members - an increase of 46 percent since Labour took office, and an average increase of 12 percent a year between December 2017 and December 2020. 

"We had it relatively stable," she told The AM Show on Wednesday. "What we're seeing now is almost a 50 percent increase in just three-and-a-bit years."

The statistics National provided suggest there were 5343 gang members when Labour took office. Police said there were 3960 known gang members in July 2014, according to a 2016 document released by the Ministry of Social Development. That would suggest between July 2014 and the time Labour took power in 2017, there was average annual growth of 10.5 percent in gang numbers, according to police. 

Collins said more gang members on the streets would mean more crime. 

"Take their assets off them. That's what we did," she told The AM Show. "You go and raid their premises and houses and you take their guns. We don't do that. 

"The firearm prohibition orders which police wanted, and which we wanted to get through and Labour stopped, they would have actually allowed police just to knock on the door, 'We're coming in to look for the guns.' that's the sort of thing you do." 

Attempts by National at introducing legislation to do this have so far not succeeded, with the Government arguing preventing gang members from holding gun licences - as the Arms (Firearms Prohibition Orders) Amendment Bill currently before Parliament, having passed its first reading, would do - is useless, as few bother to obtain their guns legally; and that raiding suspected gang members' houses without a warrant, as the Bill would allow, would breach human rights. 

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

During parliamentary debate on the Bill, Labour and Green MPs noted there was already a 'fit and proper person' test that would stop gang members getting a gun licence. Public submissions on the Bill recently closed. 

Jarrod Gilbert, the director of criminal justice at the University of Canterbury and the author of Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand, says the police's estimate of the number of gang members are "highly inaccurate".

"It's incredibly easy to get on the list and difficult to come off it," he wrote in a piece for Newsroom last week.

"If a person is seen wearing a gang patch, then his name will go on the list. But if that person leaves, how will the police know? In other words there are swathes of people who remain on the list who are no longer in a gang."

He said the police's list includes names of people who were members of gangs that no longer exist, and there is much higher churn amongst gangs now than there used to be - it's easier to join, but also easier to leave.

"Growth in the scene is happening, but the police gang number count is currently not accurately portraying that," he said, warning media and politicians against reporting them as fact.

After hearing Collins' latest comments on gangs, Gilbert was disappointed.

"Judith Collins clearly didn't read my latest piece on the gang numbers," he tweeted. 

The police last week announced a "nationwide operation to disrupt and prevent firearms-related violence by criminal gangs and organised crime groups" called Operation Tauwhiro. 

"A key focus of the operation will be investigating and disrupting the illegal supply of firearms to gangs and organised crime groups, which is enabling firearms violence," said Commissioner Andrew Coster.

"This includes the illegal manufacture, modification, and supply of firearms to gangs and organised crime groups."