Chris Hipkins admits 'no question' gang numbers have increased 'significantly' as figures show explosion under Labour

Police Minister Chris Hipkins admits there's "no question" about the spike in gang numbers around New Zealand in the past five years as figures show they've increased by more than 50 percent under Labour.

Newshub exclusively revealed the figures earlier this week, which also showed the number of 18 to 25-year-olds joining gangs had jumped significantly, from 514 to 898 in the same five-year period - a 75 percent increase. 

Hipkins said there'd undoubtedly been a spike in gang numbers but "we are more actively policing gangs".

"Something like the gang register, for example, you will see that the police will be picking up more of the prospects, more of the gang associates and they will be added to the register because of more active policing," Hipkins told AM's Ryan Bridge on Wednesday morning.

"That's not the reason that the list is growing, though. It's a contributing factor - we're picking more people up - but, actually, there's no question that the overall number is growing as well."

Hipkins, who became Police Minister in June, believed those numbers had increased "significantly".

"What we have seen is an escalation in gang-related activity and there's a variety of factors that have contributed to that - the deportation of 501s has been a significant factor there," he said. "They have had a disproportionate influence… on overall gang recruitment. 

"The importation of the 501s has introduced new gangs and those new gangs go out and recruit locals. It's, therefore, prompted some of the existing gangs to up their recruitment practises, as well."

As a result of this, Hipkins told AM gang activity was "ratcheting up".

Even though '501s', referring to section 501 of Australia's Migration Act allowed Canberra to send people back to New Zealand if they failed to meet a character test, made up a small proportion of the latest gang figures, Hipkins said they were still a "catalyst". 

"That doesn't mean that they're responsible for all of it but it's certainly been one of the things that have contributed to escalating gang activity.

"I've always been very open with the fact that there has been an escalation in gang activity and we absolutely have to make sure that we are doing everything we can to get on top of that," Hipkins said.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has also previously pointed blame at 501s for contributing to rising gang numbers.