Police Commissioner Andrew Coster's revelation that 90 percent of charged meth dealers aren't gang members "creates a false impression", according to National MP Mark Mitchell.
Mitchell, a former police officer, fired up at the Police Commissioner during Parliament's annual review of the police, accusing him of not properly addressing what he perceived as a rise in criminal activity.
"In the last 12 months we've seen a proliferation of weapons, gang numbers, under your watch and your leadership. It's now more dangerous for serving police officers on the frontline, which means it's more dangerous for the communities they serve," Mitchell said.
"We've seen gang members allowed to brazenly and openly break the law - take over roads, take over public spaces, with the police taking a position that they'll stand back, record and take action afterwards.
"This is not giving public confidence. It's not putting your police officers in a strong position because gangs feel like they have a licence to do what they want.
"I know in my own patch I now have the Hell's Angels and the Mongols having open warfare in the Silverdale commercial area which I've never seen ever in my patch.
"What is your response to the overall degradation of public safety and also the safety of your frontline officers having to deal with this?"
The number of gang members has nearly doubled in the last five years to over 8000 members - an increase of almost 4000 in five years. But Police Minister Poto Williams says it's not an accurate reflection, given the National Gang List doesn't record when a gang member quits.
Coster pushed back on the idea that gangs are the only issue. He said it was "fact" that "90 percent of the people charged with methamphetamine dealing offences are not on the National Gang List, i.e. we have no evidence to say they're gang members".
Coster, who has served in the top job at police since April 2020, acknowledged that gangs are "inextricably linked to organised crime - there's no doubt about it".
But he said it's international crime lords higher up the food chain that are often benefiting the most from the illicit drug trade - not local gang members.
"In many cases they are lower down the food chain than those who are importing large quantities of it. So they are actively involved in distribution. Many of them distribute enough drugs to pay for their own drugs and a little bit of petrol in their motorcycle. Many of them are living in poor conditions.
"So yes, some make a lot of money and they need to be dealt with through asset restraint and we are actively doing that. But the impression that all gang members are living the high-life because of organised crime is just not accurate - there are others doing much better from it."
Mitchell said Coster's response "creates a false impression that they're not linked in with the gangs because we know they are".
"If the public sees the police being shot at, and the public sees the police standing around while gangs are taking over public spaces, how are they meant to feel any sense of confidence that you're able to deal with the situation?"
Coster pointed blame at Australian deportees, also known as 501s after a section of the Australian Migrant Act that enforces deportations of criminals back to their country of origin.
"The gang environment has significantly changed as a result of returned offenders. That has led to the seeding of new groups," Coster said.
"The escalation that we have seen between those groups is reflective of the environment that exists internationally, including in Australia, and so at some level, what we have had through the deportation of those offenders to New Zealand is replication of the Australian environment.
"Our approach has seen more charges laid and more apprehensions than we've seen in the past. The rates at which we are charging gang offenders is increasing and it is reflecting the serious history that some of those people bring.
"I don't like the current situation that we see. I don't like the violence that my staff are being exposed to. But we need to be really clear that the conditions that have given rise to that are not caused by police."
Coster said he also needed to be clear that "it's not an offence to be a member of a gang and police can't simply go out and arrest gang members because they're gang members".
"We have to respond to the behaviour that we see and we absolutely are doing that".
It's not the first time Coster has faced off with a National MP. Earlier this year Simon Bridges labelled the Police Commissioner a "wokester" for not being tough enough on gangs.