More than 8000 people on National Gang List, but Government pushes back on its accuracy

There are now more than 8000 people on New Zealand's National Gang List (NGL), but the Government continues to say it's "not an accurate measure of gang numbers" in the country. 

That's backed by the Police Commissioner, who earlier this year raised questions about the NGL's credibility, saying "it's easy to get on the list [but] it's very hard to get off".

The latest NGL figures show that in April, the number of people on the list hit 8003. The three regions with the most recorded gang members are the Bay of Plenty (1493), Eastern region (1252), and Wellington (957).  

There are now 2435 more people on the list than in December 2017, following the election of the Labour Government. 

National's Police spokesperson Simeon Brown asked Police Minister Poto Williams in Parliament on Tuesday whether she is "concerned gang membership in New Zealand is continuing to increase". 

Williams replied by saying it was "more accurate" to say the number on the NGL has increased before mentioning comments from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster throwing doubt on the list's credibility as an accurate record of gang numbers. 

"I would note the comments from the Police Commissioner that the list was created for intelligence purposes, not to give us an accurate statistical picture of gang membership or activity. I also note that he has expressed a lack of confidence in the accuracy of these numbers," Williams said.

She repeated the commissioner's points several times, before saying: "The gang list is an intelligence tool only. It is not an accurate measure of gang numbers in New Zealand". 

Appearing at a Justice Select Committee in Tuesday, Coster said the question of whether gang numbers have increased "is a very hard one to answer with confidence". 

"We developed a measure, the national gang list, in order to understand for intelligence purposes whether someone has had a gang connection," the Police Commissioner said.

"It is easy to get on the list - we see a gang member wearing a patch - it is very hard to get off the list because if you drift away from gangs we have no way of knowing."

Coster ended up telling MPs that police had "no confidence about the total number of active gang members". He acknowledged gang activity appeared to be rising.

"I can't with confidence tell you what has happened with gang numbers. On the face of it, gang numbers have increased, however, the statistics we have for that are very problematic."

Simeon Brown and Judith Collins.
Simeon Brown and Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub.

In a statement on Tuesday, Brown said gang members are a "blight on society".

"These organised criminal organisations prey upon law-abiding citizens and peddle drugs like methamphetamine throughout our communities," he said.

"More gang members means more crime and violence on our streets. Already this year we have seen armed robberies, drive-by shootings, and a prison destroyed by gang members.

"Rather than question police intelligence, the Minister of Police should get on with fixing the problem."

Brown said Labour is "just playing politics".

"Every day we delay is another day where gangs are engaging in violent criminal activity and recruiting more and more people," the National MP said.

"The Government must be doing more to stop the number of gang members increasing.

"The public have had enough. They're sick and tired of Labour's soft approach to crime and want decisive action now before gangs are entrenched in every suburb of New Zealand."

He wants the Government to introduce his Firearms Prohibition Orders Bill, which is currently at Select Committee, "rather than throw it out just to bring similar legislation to Parliament at some point later in the year".

Williams said on Tuesday that the Government is focused on cracking down on gangs.

"The Government is committed to combating the harm caused by organised crime through a variety of measures including introducing firearms prohibition orders; amending the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to hit the gangs in their pockets, where it hurts the most; investing record amounts into our police service; committing to recruiting an additional 1800 additional police officers; and ensuring that we now have the largest police workforce ever."

At February's Select Committee, Coster was asked if police "still arrest criminals in New Zealand?"

He replied: "Last year we seized more firearms, we recovered and restrained more assets from organised crime and we laid more charges for dealing, importation and the manufacture of methamphetamine and other drugs than we did in the year before even with the disruption of COVID."

He said it had never been a principle that police "must arrest and prosecute for every offence".

"We need to make sure our response is appropriate and it is."