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Police Association President Greg O'Connor has suggested police be empowered to attack gangs at every level after the latest wave of violence.

Mr O'Connor's comments follow calls by Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws for an army response and Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt's suggestion of a locally-elected Police Chief to deal with gangs in the wake of several incidents around the country last week.

The latest incident involves the arrest of five Wairoa gang members yesterday, all charged with possessing offensive weapons after a stand-off between rival gangs.

Mr O'Connor said that recent Mongrel Mob incidents may look like street-level bullying but the real drive behind gang conflict is control of an incredibly lucrative drugs trade.

"We need a sustained, co-ordinated attack using all the tools at our disposal and that means attacking the ground-level thugs as well as knocking the top off the pyramid," he said.

Mr Laws yesterday compared New Zealand gangs' lawlessness to violence in Zimbabwe and said the army should be called in to "crush" them if necessary.

Mr O'Connor said Mr Laws suggestions were well-meaning, but the best advantage New Zealand had in tackling gangs was one national police force, with the ability to operate nationally against organised crime.

"Our national police force is the best asset we currently have to fight back but we need to rally behind the police, empower them to do the job, and give them the resources they need to be effective," he said.

Mr Shadbolt said he supported the American system of having an elected chief of police in each city, developed in New Zealand.

Mr O'Connor suggested that targeting organised criminal gangs was not a job for the local sheriff.

Recently released figures show that the estimated total number of patched gang members and associates is between 3,000 and 3,500 across New Zealand.

The Green Party said the the Police Association's suggestions would "tend to undermine our rights, and not do much to control gangs".

MP Keith Locke said: "There are already surveillance powers for police when dealing with serious violent crime. More generalised surveillance powers would probably affect the privacy of the general public and do little to stop gang crime.

"There is also already legislation to confiscate the proceeds of crime. Civil forfeiture risks undermining due process, and taking assets of people who haven't been found guilty of an actual crime."

He said the Green Party was disturbed by the level of violence but there were no simple answers.

"We think it is necessary that government agencies to give much more support to community organisations who are trying to identify wayward youth at an early stage and give them a positive purpose in life - so that they are not ripe recruits for the gangs," Mr Locke said.