Labour MP Helen White shares 'increase in gang activity' concerns days after Police Minister Poto Williams denies rise in gang violence

Labour MP Helen White has shared her concerns about "an increase in gang activity" just days after Police Minister Poto Williams denied a rise in gang violence. 

White, who unsuccessfully ran for the Auckland Central electorate in 2020 against the Green Party's winner Chlöe Swarbrick, was elected to Parliament on Labour's list due to its massive 50 percent of the party vote. 

Writing for the NZ Herald on Friday, White shared her concerns about how Auckland Central was once "a city full of international students and tourists" but "now we are faced with an increase in gang activity in the city". 

"It is clear from the statistics that crime in Auckland Central has been on the rise and is changing in form. That is not surprising given the huge shock the city has been through."

ACT MP Chris Baillie said he agreed with White. 

"The ACT Party this morning gives its full support to Labour list MP Helen White as she highlights how out of control crime has become under the Labour Government," Baillie, spokesperson for police, said on Friday.

With a hint of sarcasm, Baillie added: "If only Helen had a colleague in her caucus, like the Police Minister, she could raise these concerns with."

White's comments came just days after Police Minister Poto Williams, also a Labour MP, in Parliament denied that gang violence was increasing, sparking uproar in the Opposition benches. 

Labour MP Helen White.
Labour MP Helen White. Photo credit: Facebook

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell, who before entering politics spent 13 years with the police, asked Williams if gang violence had increased or decreased under her watch. 

"I reject the premise of that question," Williams replied. 

"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.

"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."

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

But while Williams is correct that police have executed some big busts recently - the largest ever attempted smuggling of cocaine into New Zealand was seized at the border this month - 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 Minister Poto Williams.
Police Minister Poto Williams. Photo credit: Getty

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 has exploded 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". 

It also doesn't account for gang members who have left. 

"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.