Gang membership numbers revealed in parliament

Police estimate there are between 3000 and 3500 patched gang members and associates in New Zealand, Parliament was told today.

Police Minister Annette King said the figures were being reviewed and accuracy was difficult because people were dishonest with the police about gang membership.

"And not all gangs wear patches, or if they do they don't wear them all the time," she said when answering questions from New Zealand First MPs.

Ron Mark asked if it was an appropriate response to have fewer than 200 officers dedicated to dealing with "a group of criminals the size of the population of Napier who are responsible for almost all of the $1.5 billion methamphetamine trade".

Ms King said police dealing with gangs were supported by many others who had expert or specialised skills.

"Police work as a team, not in isolation."

Mr Mark also asked about the Asian crime unit, which he said had only five staff and only one of them was Asian.

"It is widely known that most of the methamphetamine and precursors being imported are sourced from family and business connections in South China," he said.

Ms King said a lot of effort was going into recruiting officers from Asian backgrounds.

"Police have formed very good links with those countries where precursors come from, their intelligence work isn't spoken about very loudly but it is very important in combating the import of precursors," she said.

Ms King introduced a bill to Parliament today which will increase sentences for criminal gang membership and make participation an aggravating factor at sentencing.

The National Party has said it will support the Organised Crime (Penalties and Sentencing) Bill.

It amends the Crimes Act to increase the maximum penalty for participation in an organised criminal group from five years jail to 10 years.

That penalty change allows interception warrants to be sought for investigations.

- NZPA

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