Bay of Plenty Police will measure the success of a new operation targeting organised crime and gang members in the region on the reformation of criminals.
On the back of the launch of Operation Tauwhiro, a national operation to target illegal firearms, local police told NZME police would focus on helping gang members move away from criminal activity and also support their families who might have been victimised as well.
Nationally, turf wars are becoming far more common as senior Australian motorcycle gang members are deported and rival organisations fight over the lucrative drug trade.
However, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told the Herald last week they could not “arrest their way” out of the organised crime problem.
Instead, Coster promised police would take a nuanced approach to work with local communities.
Bay of Plenty Police District Commander Superintendent Andy McGregor said “the historic approach has been enforcement”.
It appears wherever there are firearms, drugs aren’t far away and McGregor said the methamphetamine trade was in their crosshairs.
There is a massive flow-on effect when someone sells methamphetamine, with buyers often needing to commit crimes in the first place to pay for the drug.
Police will focus on helping gang members move away from criminal activity and also support their families who might have been victimised as well.
“If you have a look at it from where we’re going with this, this is about actually working with gang members who want to change their life around,” he said.
“In other words, they want to live a life free of crime … We’ve got gang members and others that want to get off meth.”
That did not mean the police would take it easy on gang or organised crime members and an eagle eye would always be kept on them, McGregor said.
It comes after Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges revealed 798 people joined gangs in New Zealand nationwide last year.
The number of patched members in the Bay of Plenty region increased by 4 per cent last year alone, taking the total number of gang members in the country to nearly 8000.
“Gangs do nothing but peddle misery, inflicting violence and harm on the good people in our communities,” Bridges said.
“It is concerning they are gaining such a foothold in the Bay of Plenty.
“I worry that good people in our communities are becoming targets of their illegal drug trade and other serious crimes.”
There was no denying the region was a hotspot for gangs, Bay of Plenty Detective Inspector Lew Warner said.
He likened it to the Gold Coast in Australia, with beautiful beaches, terrific weather, and plenty of money within the community.
“Money is huge in meth, there’s no doubt you can make a lot of money very quickly. It is a continual beast,” Warner said.
Rotorua area commander Inspector Phil Taikato said these gangs were driven purely by greed.
However, many of the members of New Zealand’s ethnically-based gangs are drawn to them over brotherhood.
“We’ve got those who are in gangs because of their family situation or community situation and unfortunately their ethos is crime,” Taikato said.
Organised crime reduction groups within the Bay of Plenty have been engaging with local gangs to get them talking and also defusing any conflict between them.
Taikato said through this work, police had been able to initiate other conversations and identify those who were ready to move away from criminal activity.
“There are those who want to get out of the criminal behaviour because … they don’t want their kids going down the same track,” he said.
“Those who can move out, who have got the mana, and want to start programmes, we can support them.”
McGregor said they had been contacted by several gang members wanting to get out.
There are a number of successes of high-risk offenders turning their lives and becoming new people, Inspector Herby Ngawhika said.
“If we can get our high-risk offenders front footing it, it’s keeping our community and [police] staff safe when they’re out there,” he said.
Operation Tauwhiro would not be a short-term fix, instead, it would have long-lasting effects and would be a slow build over time, Ngawhika said.
Warner agreed, saying the operation would see a change in police response, enforcement, prevention, and communication too.
“There’s a realisation from police that we don’t have all the answers as well,” he said.
“That’s why all our partner agencies are hopefully going to assist, all the groups and communities will be a lot of assistance to everyone.
“It’s about everyone knowing the police are not the sole answer to this, it’s actually the community themselves who need to say we’ve had enough as well.”
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