Number of gang members on national list rises but Government says it's not 'complete picture'

The number of gang members identified on the National Gang List (NGL) has increased by 53 percent since Labour entered office and National says that explosion has "no signs of stopping". 

The August data shows 8175 people are recorded on the NGL, up from 5343 in October 2017, when Labour took power. The data is compiled every two months, with 8061 people on the list in June and 8003 in April.

Broken down by police district, Bay of Plenty has the most recorded gang members (1468), followed by Eastern (1291) and Wellington (1009). Tasman is the district with the largest percentage increase over the last four years, jumping 207 percent from 68 to 209.

National's police spokesperson Simeon Brown told Newshub the figures show the gang issue in New Zealand is exploding under Labour. 

"There has been a 53 percent increase in gang membership since Labour first took office, a figure which reflects what New Zealanders are experiencing," he said. "I am constantly told by members of the public they are seeing the impact of this increase in gang numbers and activity in their communities every day."

However, both the Police Minister and Police Commissioner have repeatedly raised concern about the credibility of the NGL as an accurate representation of the number of gang members in New Zealand.

The minister, Poto Williams, told Newshub it was an "intelligence tool" and "by no means a complete picture of the gang landscape". 

"While it is extremely easy to get on the list it's extremely difficult to get off."

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said at a Justice Select Committee in May that it was difficult to know if someone had drifted away from a gang and was no longer a member. However, he acknowledged at the time that gang activity appeared to be rising.

Brown said that's evident from the "unprecedented public shootings involving gang members this year", including a shooting at Auckland's Viaduct Harbour in April which came amid conflict between members of the Head Hunters and Mongols gangs. Just earlier this week, five Head Hunters gang members were arrested after a shooting in New Lynn.

"New Zealanders are increasingly concerned about the increase in gang membership and violence throughout the country," the National MP said.

NGL by police district - August 2021

  • Auckland City - 332
  • Bay of Plenty - 1468
  • Canterbury - 609
  • Central - 685
  • Counties Manukau - 863
  • Eastern - 1291
  • Northland - 395
  • Southern - 229
  • Tasman - 209
  • Waikato - 652
  • Waitemata - 433
  • Wellington - 1009

Brown's also concerned the Government isn't wanting to release the gang member numbers publicly, saying he's been waiting more than a month to receive the August data after asking at the start of September. 

"Any moves by the Government to hide the gang numbers from the public is an attempt to abscond from accountability over the Government's lack of action to address growing gang membership and violence across New Zealand.

"The Government never kicked up a fuss when the number of gang members was released in previous years but now that the problem is getting out of control, they are doing their best to keep the figures out of the public domain."

Brown complained in July after waiting more than two weeks for the June numbers. The Police Minister's office told Newshub at the time that there was no intentional delay in releasing the figures and that there had been an "administrative error". Brown thought that was a "convenient response".

Williams told Newshub the Government was clear that "violent gangs and other criminals cannot threaten, intimidate and exploit our communities".

"As a Government, we're focused on relentlessly targeting gangs and organised crime," she said. "The Government has never been more active in cracking down on gangs and organised crime, and getting gang leaders off our streets."

"We are seeing more investigators and specialists focusing on serious and organised crime, at national and district level."

Williams pointed to Operation Tauwhiro, which is tasked with cracking down on firearms-related violence and crime amongst gangs. Since February, she said 1091 firearms and $5.5m in cash has been seized, while 940 people have been arrested in relation to firearms offences. It's "so successful", she said, that it's been extended by six months. 

Police said in June that since July 2017, $513m worth of cash and assets had been seized with a "significant impact on organised crime". Williams said that's the equivalent of $1.6 billion being removed from the illicit economy. 

"This Government has a strong track record on tackling gangs and gun violence. We have prohibited the most dangerous firearms. We've implemented harsher penalties for gun crime, a tougher licensing system to ensure firearms do not fall into the wrong hands, and remain committed to a register to better track firearms in the community.

"We're focused on long-term solutions to getting guns out of the hands of criminals, and breaking the cycle of gang violence. Let's not forget that the National Party voted against tougher penalties for gun crime including taking guns off gangs, harsher penalties for those who push synthetic drugs, tougher controls on returning terrorists, and Police numbers fell under them."