A Northland community grappling with the presence of patches in its neighbourhood has welcomed a police operation to curb gang violence, guns, and organised crime.
Operation Tauwhiro provides Northland police with an opportunity to disrupt violent offenders, prevent crime and victimisation, and engage with communities.
The six-month nationwide operation is the first affiliated to the new Organised Crime Strategy that addresses organised crime, its social drivers and the harm it causes.
Whangārei suburb Ōtangarei has a long-standing reputation as a breeding ground for gang influence, says Martin Kaipo, chief executive and co-founder of community organisation Te Hau Āwhiowhio ō Ōtangarei Trust.
The last high profile gang presence in the area was on February 11 when a trio of Black Power gang members and two high calibre firearms were netted by police in Ōtangarei and Whananaki.
Kaipo has been a driving force behind challenging harmful behaviours in Ōtangarei. He abandoned his post as a high ranking Black Power member and spent the past three decades working with urban Māori communities, high need Māori youth and their whānau.
The police operation would be a tool that further complemented hard work by community initiatives - such as the Ōtangarei Trust - to counter organised crime and get weapons off the street, Kaipo said.
"Any community would want to be put at the highest safety level we can get, so this whole police operation is a good thing. No one wants weaponry in their communities and especially in the hands of people whose lack of consideration for others makes them high risk."
Firearms in the wrong hands posed a massive risk to children in Ōtangarei because there was an abundance of youngsters in the area, Kaipo said.
He appreciated that police, like the Ōtangarei Trust, were committed to quashing the high influence gangs have in vulnerable neighbourhoods.
"You gotta have a willingness to challenge those behaviours," Kaipo said. "I see gangs as being opportunist. They prey on communities that have high unemployment, are high in benefit dependency, and high in terms of low-decile schooling."
Detective Inspector Bridget Doell said Northland frontline staff, specialist intelligence and investigations work groups, as well as prevention and community engagement team would work towards Operation Tauwhiro's objective - to diminish the frequency of gang-related violence and organised crime, and the involvement of firearms.
"Gang violence and the criminal use of firearms has no place in the Northland community and this operation is focused on reducing harm in the community."
Doell said a recent spate of gun-related violence was relentlessly investigated by police to hold the offenders accountable.
"Operation Tauwhiro will see this work continue and increase."
Earlier in January three Rebels gang members, accused of shooting at a police officer on Puketona Rd, appeared in the Kaikohe District Court charged with a raft of serious offences including kidnapping, using a firearm against a police officer, aggravated robbery using a firearm, participating in an organised criminal group, unlawful possession of a firearm and two counts of arson.
And in May last year a 29-year-old male Rebels gang member and a 28-year-old female associate faced multiple charges of manufacturing methamphetamine. They were jointly charged with the unlawful possession of firearms including the prohibited semi-automatic.
A 39-year-old man, with links to the Head Hunters, was charged with multiple offences related to conspiring to manufacture and dealing in methamphetamine in the same month.
One of New Zealand's top five wanted offenders was arrested in Northland in a police crackdown on organised crime during alert levels 3 and 4 in May 2020. He was one of 23 people, all with links to gangs, who were nabbed in the region as police used the Covid-19 lockdown period to target gangs, including the Comancheros, Mongrel Mob, Black Power, Nomads, Headhunters, Rebels, King Cobras, Tribesmen and Mongols.
But Doell said arrest and enforcement action was only one aspect of the entire operation.
"Wider social issues, such as mental health and family violence stressors will be considered to ensure an outcome that allows the recovery of firearms, accountability for offending, together with wraparound support for whānau."
A heavier emphasis was being placed on social service interventions that targeted offending gangs or gang members, identified underlying risk factors and implemented appropriate interventions.
They also planned to collaborate with local iwi, community non-governmental organisations, probation and parole officers, churches and other community groups to meet underlying causes of violence and dysfunction with tailored services and support.