Gang recruits outstrip new cops under Labour as wait times for police help explode

Gang recruits have outstripped new police officers in almost all regions under Labour while police response times have grown longer. 

Police data obtained by the National Party shows that, in Auckland City for example, 49 new officers have joined the force since 2017 compared to 107 new gang recruits. 

In Waikato, the difference was stark: 95 new police officers since 2017 compared to 259 new gang members. The same goes for Wellington: 62 new officers since 2017 in contrast to 430 gang member recruits. 

The same data shows it's taking longer for police to respond. Since 2017, the response time has increased by almost two hours in Auckland City and by 40 minutes in Waikato. Southland was the only region with a decrease of 13 seconds. 

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell acknowledged that police numbers across the country have increased, but "gang membership is growing faster than the police muster".

"Police may have more colleagues, but that doesn't necessarily mean better service. What the police need is a minister that will give them the leadership and tools that they need to get the job done."

Last week Labour MP Helen White shared her concerns about "an increase in gang activity" in Auckland, just days after Police Minister Poto Williams denied there had been a rise in gang violence.

Williams made the remarks despite gang membership rising by nearly 4000 since 2016 and a 49 percent increase in injuries recorded as a result of firearms crime in Auckland in 2021 compared with 2020 and 2019.

Williams has often rejected the police's National Gang List as a reflection of gang growth, because it's an "intelligence tool" that was "never designed to be an accurate statistical count of gang membership in New Zealand" and it doesn't account for gang members who quit. 

Williams in Parliament on Wednesday said she had "consistently" shared her concerns about crime, which was "why we boosted police funding by $450 million and deployed an additional 300 organised crime staff". 

The Government last week graduated its 3000th police officer since 2017. 

"Our Government has never been more active in the crackdown on gangs and organised crime," Williams said, as she celebrated the graduation of Wing 352 at the Royal New Zealand Police College.

"We're addressing this issue through funding the largest police service on record, and are on track to reach a net gain of 1800 police officers on the beat since we took office by June 2023.

"With this graduating Wing, we are now only 389 officers away from meeting this target."

Williams also pointed to Operation Tauwhiro, a long-term and nationally coordinated police operation, that as of March 1 had resulted in 1531 firearms seized, along with 53.74 kg of methamphetamine and 1255 arrests. The operation was extended until June. 

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

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told a Parliament committee in December that the rise in gang activity was attributed to Australia's 501 deportation policy - a view Williams reflected.

"Let's not forget that Australia's exporting of this gang problem to New Zealand began under National in 2015 and they responded by cutting the number of cops on the beat and we are playing catch up," Williams said. 

"501s are changing the nature of gangs in New Zealand and that is why we are funding the largest ever increase of organised crime staff, tightening up our gun laws, and increasing the police budget by more than 30 percent."