Top cop blames gang tensions, 501 deportees for surging gun violence across Auckland

One of the country’s top cops has blamed bad blood linked to rising gang tensions and an influx of Australian 501 deportees for surging gun violence across Auckland.

A high level briefing to Police Minister Poto Williams by Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers – obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act – canvasses the background to a spate of shootings across the super city and what police are doing to prevent more bloodshed.

The briefing was delivered in November just days after South Auckland suburb Otara was rocked by a series of shootings, which community leaders said highlighted the effects of poverty and the glorification of gang lifestyles.

Chambers’ briefing noted an increase in gang-related violence in the Counties Manukau police district, with recent activity linked to tensions between members of the Tribesmen MC and Killer Beez gangs.

It referenced the shooting of Killer Beez president Josh Masters in April 2019 by a patched member of the Tribesmen MC.

“In recent months, a number of Killer Beez gang members have also patched over to Tribesmen MC, exacerbating existing tensions.”

Chambers said the Otara shootings involved seven incidents within a 2km radius in just five days, with shots being fired at houses and vehicles.

Additional staff were redeployed from throughout Auckland and frontline staff were briefly authorised to carry firearms.

“The increased inter-gang violence has likely impacted on feelings of safety with the community.”

Police gang liaison officers had worked with gang leaders to mitigate further violence and AOS members had assisted with search warrants.

Police had also redirected additional staff to focus on gang activity and implemented a “suppression plan”, including high-visibility patrols, proactive prevention efforts like bail checks, and directly targeting gang members and affiliates, particularly those linked to the Tribesmen MC and Killer Beez.

“Police are committed to responding to these serious violence incidents and are prioritising efforts by targeting individuals and groups known to use firearms an participants in the sale, and distribution, of illicit drugs.”

Chambers also singled out Australia’s so-called 501 deportees and their influence on the New Zealand gang landscape.

Inter-gang tension in South Auckland likely reflected gangs asserting their influence and control of illicit drug markets, he wrote.

“The impact of returned offenders from Australia is likely to continue to influence the environment as Australian organised criminals have brought increased use of violence and firearms, and the domestic drug market and suppliers have responded in kind.

“Gang membership using firearms in New Zealand is not a recent phenomenon, but the frequency with which firearm are being used has increased in recent times.”

Chambers also said dealing with deportees and processing them at Auckland International Airport was having a significant impact on the district’s police resources.

In December, the Weekend Herald revealed that worsening gun violence linked to gang turf wars and illicit drugs in Auckland had left more than 350 people with firearms injuries in five years – with more than half of all victims treated at Middlemore Hospital.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff wrote to Williams expressing concern about the shootings and asking what police were doing to crack down on organised crime and”lucrative” drug trafficking.

In a letter to Goff, obtained by the Herald, Williams said there was no single solution to the “distressing spate of gang-related violence”.

She reiterated that additional staff had been redeployed across Auckland and a “significant” criminal investigation launched.

Police were undertaking “reassurance and prevention activities” to make communities feel safer and there was wider work underway nationally to target organised crime.

The Herald’s report on firearms injuries was concerning, Williams said.

Hospitals were not currently obliged to notify police when a patient had gunshot injuries. However the Government had accepted a Royal Commission recommendation to make such notification mandatory and was working with health officials on the change.

Other gun law changes introduced in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks would also help crack down on gun crime, she said.

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