Gangs will "face tougher consequences" under a National Party Government, leader Christopher Luxon says, with membership to a gang to be an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.
It comes after gang members travelled to Ōpōtiki, Bay of Plenty, in large numbers earlier this week following the death of Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Rota Taiatini. Schools shut out of caution and bus services were cancelled.
Luxon said this was "unacceptable", adding gangs have been an "unwelcome" part of New Zealand's criminal landscape for decades.
"Since Labour took office in 2017, New Zealand has witnessed a staggering 66 percent increase in gang membership, amounting to more than 3500 new members," Luxon said in a statement on Sunday.
"New Zealand now has 8900 gang members, compared to 10,700 frontline police officers. Alarmingly, gangs are now recruiting around twice as fast as the police, and in five police districts there are now more gang members than police officers."
He said these gangs pose a "grave threat" to New Zealand and thrive by preying on the most vulnerable people. This is why National would make gang membership an aggravating factor in sentencing so gang members will face tougher consequences for their crimes, Luxon said.
"Aggravating factors acknowledge that in some cases, the circumstances surrounding a crime may inflict greater harm upon their victims, and so warrant stronger sentences," Luxon said.
"National believes the visible presence of gangs in communities can lead to prolonged fear and intimidation for victims who have suffered at the hands of gang-related offences.
"By making gang membership an aggravating factor, judges will be required to consider this when determining a sentence. In practice, it means offenders who are known members of criminal gangs will likely face tougher sentences for crime."
National has previously announced other law and order policies, including:
- banning gang patches in public places
- allowing police to issue dispersal notices where gang members come together in public to intimidate, threaten, and sometimes assault members of the public
- giving police non-association powers to prevent gang members from communicating and planning criminal activity
- giving police warrantless search powers to take the guns out of the hands of armed gang members
- creating young offender military academies.
Both Luxon and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said it was "unacceptable" the town of Ōpōtiki was "shut down" after gang members arrived.
Luxon also criticised the Government for their "inaction" that allowed this "criminal brazenness" to take hold.