Government's gang crackdown: New seizure powers to police, new offence to tackle drive-by shootings

The Government is beefing up the police's powers to seize weapons, cash, and vehicles as part of a major crime crackdown following a recent string of "brazen gang activities".

Legislation will be introduced into Parliament "as soon as possible" which will also make it an offence to discharge a firearm with the intent of intimidating someone  - no matter where that takes place. The current law only applies if the perpetrator and victim are inside the same dwelling.

That should assist police as they tackle a spate of drive-by shootings. More than 20 drive-by shootings have rocked Auckland in recent months, with police pinning some the feuding Killer Beez and Tribesmen gangs

Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan, who became the Police and Justice ministers respectively last month, announced soon after their appointments that they were devising a package to address the spike in gang activity.

That was revealed on Wednesday by the pair, who spent the morning meeting with specialist organised crime staff. 

"Recent brazen gang activities have been totally unacceptable and our communities deserve better," Hipkins said.

"Police asked for legislative changes that will give them more tools to crack down on violent offending and other criminal activities. We have listened, and will introduce a package of changes that target this activity as an omnibus Amendment Bill as soon as possible."

The Police Minister said the measures are "practical and targeted" and reflect the Government's desire for "real solutions, not empty slogans".

The package includes:

  • Making it an offence to discharge a firearm with the intent to intimidate any person or group of people regardless of what situation that occurs in. Offenders would face up to five years in prison

  • New warrant and search powers allowing police to respond to emerging gang conflicts and remove weapons from possible participants. This is a change from existing search powers where suspicion of specific offending by a specific individual or group needs to be established, but don't allow police to search the property or vehicles of all gang members despite the risk of future violence

  • Allowing police to seize and impound vehicles for 28 days where there are reasonable grounds the vehicle has been used to drive dangerously or recklessly - even if there is no injury or death - or was driven with aggravated carelessness causing injury or death

  • Introducing the power to seize cash reasonably believed to be more than $10,000 when it is found in suspicious circumstances. This can be held for up to seven days before it needs to be returned or officers behin proceedings to remove it permanently from the possessor

  • Adding watches, jewellery, precious metals and stones, vehicles and boats to a list of high-value goods prohibited for sale for cash over a specified value

"We want to hit gangs and other offenders where it hurts - by taking their guns, cars and motorbikes and making it harder to launder money - while also responding to increasing incidents of intimidation and violence on our roads and streets and in our homes," Hipkins said.

Allan said it is also important to address the drivers of crime, including youth crime. 

"We know people don’t become gang members overnight, and that the causes are complex and often inter-generational,” she said.

“We will continue to ensure we are upping the ante on intervention and prevention measures that are focused on steering young people away from a life with organised criminal groups.

"I will be looking closely at the youth justice system in particular to see how we can make changes that will improve both the lives of at-risk young people and public safety over the long term."

Hipkins and Allan spoke to media on Wednesday.
Hipkins and Allan spoke to media on Wednesday. Photo credit: Newshub.

Wednesday's package has been welcomed by the Police Association, which called the measures a "solid start". The new tools show the Government is listening to police and had picked up on several key concerns relating to gangs, it said.

"The association agrees with the move to introduce new targeted warrant and additional search powers to find and seize weapons from gang members during a gang conflict. This would allow police in certain circumstances to execute warrants any time for up to 14 days," said Association President Chris Cahill.

"On the face of it, this is a positive addition to policing options, but we’d need to see the detail of the legislation to confirm its practicality."

The move to expand the range of offences under which police can impound vehicles the Government is responding to gang processions at funerals and boy racers "who regularly cause mayhem in communities throughout the country", Cahill said.

He also wants to see more detail around allowing police to seize cash of more than $10,000.

"The onus of proving the legitimacy of the cash must sit with the person who has it, and police can have it forfeited if there is no such proof. This sits well with prohibiting the use of cash for high-end purchases such as vehicles, boats and jewellery, which will make it much harder for organised crime groups to launder money.

"The association is pleased to see the commitment from the Justice Minister to work on the drivers of crime, including youth crime. These issues reach across many facets of New Zealand society and cannot be left for Police alone to sort out."

Hipkins was moved into the Police portfolio after former minister Poto Williams came under increasing pressure over the response to gang tensions. The Prime Minister said at her June Cabinet reshuffle that "focus" had been lost in the role.

The National Party had been doggedly prosecuting Williams over the issue and laid out its own proposals for new police powers. That included banning gang patches and introducing dispersal and anti-consorting notices to stop gang members gathering and associating with each other.

At a Justice Select Committee last month, Hipkins said he wasn't ruling out dispersal notices, although they have not appeared in the final package.

"I have seen evidence from Australia that [dispersal notices are] also being used on groups that were not the intended target of those laws," Hipkins said.

"I have no issue with curbing the human rights of people who are engaged in criminal activity because I think if they want to engage in criminal activity, there's a consequence of that.

"But I think as parliamentarians, we all have a responsibility to ensure that when we're passing laws in those areas that potentially infringe on people's rights, that we're targeting the right people and we're not passing laws that could unintended infringe on the rights of people who haven't done anything wrong."

The minister said on Wednesday that the new measures followed the Government's $562 million Budget investment into increasing police numbers, establishing a new firearms unit, and helping businesses protect themselves against ram raiders.

The Government's Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs) legislation is currently still at Select Committee. It would introduce the power to stop serious criminal offenders from accessing or being around firearms.

The Prime Minister has previously said the Government would support expediting the legislation through the House once it is reported back on by the Select Committee.