Parliament uproar after Police Minister Poto Williams denies rise in gang violence

There was uproar in Parliament after Police Minister Poto Williams denied that gang violence was increasing in New Zealand. 

Her comments came during a head-to-head with National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell, who, before entering politics, spent 13 years with the police. 

Mitchell asked Williams in Parliament on Wednesday if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch, to which she replied: "I reject the premise of that question."

Her response sparked uproar in the Opposition benches. 

"I reject the premise that gang tensions have increased under this Government's watch, because we have Operation Tauwhiro, which resulted in a thousand arrests," Williams said. 

"Every week, the organised crime groups are seizing millions of dollars' worth of cash and assets; they're making dozens and dozens of arrests. We are supporting the police to do a significant job. 

"Can I remind the member he used to be a police officer and he spends every day in this House disrespecting and diminishing the work of New Zealand police, and I stand by the police every single day against your record."

Under Operation Tauwhiro, 1531 firearms had been seized as of March 1, along with 53.74 kg of methamphetamine and 1255 arrests.

While Williams is correct that police have executed some big drug busts recently - the largest ever attempted smuggling of cocaine into New Zealand was seized at the border this month - several experts have noted a rise in gang-linked violence, particularly shootings in Auckland

Earlier this month, Stuff revealed CCTV footage showing Mongrel Mob members brazenly shooting a .22 semi-automatic from their car at rival Black Power gang members on February 28 in Napier. 

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster himself has talked about how violent criminal behaviour directed at police is ramping up like never before, and last year, speaking to a Parliament committee, he said it was because of Australia's 501 deportee policy

The number of gang members exploded by over 50 percent since Labour came to office in 2017. The National Gang List shows the country now has more than 8000 individual gang members, an increase of nearly 4000 since 2016.

But Williams says the National Gang List is an "intelligence tool designed to give police a high level understanding of the gang environment" and it was "never designed to be an accurate statistical count of gang membership in New Zealand". 

"I stand by the record investment that this Government has made into increasing police numbers: 1800, to be exact, 700 of which will be targeted towards organised crime. If that is not a specific group to deal with organised crime, I am not sure what is," Williams said. 

"We've already recruited 300 and we are well on our way to having the dedicated 700 members of that organised crime group by June next year."

The Government isn't expected to achieve 1800 extra constables until June 2023.

The Government's new Firearms Prohibition Orders are expected to help crack down on gun crime by banning high-risk convicted Kiwis from owning firearms and enabling the seizure of assets obtained through illicit means.

Mitchell told Newstalk ZB Williams had refused to let him meet with police as is tradition after he took over from National MP Simeon Brown as police spokesperson. 

"She is being petulant and vindictive and making it personal because I am doing my job in holding her to account," Mitchell told Newstalk ZB.

Williams told the NZ Herald the police were too busy right now. She said Mitchell could put questions to Coster when he next appears before Parliament's Justice Select Committee hearing. 

"It is ultimately up to me at the end of the day and I have decided not to."