I've had a lot of Hawke's Bay people approach me this week about the police crackdown on gangs.
Since last weekend, police in Eastern District have moved to what is known as general arming, where they temporarily carry a firearm on their hip as a heightened response to inter-gang violence.
I know this is confronting for some people. But it should also be taken as a reassuring sign that police are prioritising the safety of the Hawke's Bay people and of our local officers who have to walk into dangerous situations.
Police around the country make general arming decisions from time to time based on operational priorities and the need to keep communities and frontline officers safe.
In the ordinary course of policing, police firearms are carried in secure lockboxes in vehicles. So police have always had ready access to firearms in the line of duty. General arming is just an elevated level of preparedness.
I know that they don't take this decision lightly and that the situation will be kept under review on a regular basis.
The community should be assured by the presence of armed officers. It is a temporary response to heightened concerns. I expect police to keep the public informed, as appropriate to any significant dangers to wider public safety. Neither I nor the Police Commissioner support a move to routine arming of police in everyday situations.
We have increased resources for police in Eastern District and the District Commander has used the extra officers to establish a Gang Focus Unit dedicated to preventing and responding to organised crime involving gangs.
This Gang Focus Unit has arrested more than 60 gang members in the past six months. They have seized more than a quarter of a million in cash – dirty money from the methamphetamine trade. The Gang Focus Unit also works behind the scenes to de-escalate tensions. They are carrying out search warrants and holding gang members to account.
Organised crime and gangs are a priority for the new officers being deployed to the Eastern District. We are boosting police numbers by 27 per cent in the area. There will be 114 extra officers, over and above the numbers already on the frontline.
This week the Coalition Government reached a milestone – we have deployed more than 1800 new police officers to the frontline.
We have been supporting a record recruitment drive and training efforts at the Royal New Zealand Police College at Porirua. We have also made history by resuming police training at Auckland sites, for the first time in 45 years. Sixty-one of these new constables have been sent to Eastern District. They are replacing officers who retire or resign, and also lifting the overall strength of the organisation on the ground.
Criminal activity by gangs is a serious problem and they can pose a real threat, not only to other gang members but to the wider community.
This includes offending such as burglaries and theft, often used to fund the distribution of illicit drugs. This in turn contributes to social harm such as addictions, putting further impact on health and social services.
Don't be fooled by the gangs' attempt to use social media to portray themselves as some sort of wholesome community-minded organisation.
They are drug dealers. They cause harm in our communities and use threats and intimidation to back up their criminal enterprise. They are also trying to recruit new members through social media, where they boast about flash cars and motorbikes. I am pleased to report that police are increasingly seizing these assets because they are paid for by the proceeds of crime.
If any member of the public sees anything concerning, they should phone police. The new direct phone number ten-five (105) is for non-emergency calls, and for emergency or life-threatening situations people should always phone 111.
• Stuart Nash is Police Minister