As police launch an operation targeting heavy firepower in the hands of the gangs and organised criminals, someone has opened fire on the Auckland headquarters of the Head Hunters gang. Detectives remain tight lipped but the early suspects are a new gang deported from Australia with a reputation for violence.
The spiritual home of the Head Hunters has been sprayed with semi-automatic gunfire in a brazen attack.
The Marua Rd address of the gang's East chapter in the Auckland suburb of Ellerslie was targeted just after midnight on Saturday in an assault which could lead to spiralling violence of a tit-for-tat war.
The Herald understands there is evidence to suggest around 30 rounds were fired at the gang pad, although the police did not officially confirm this.
"A number of firearm cases were located near the scene and there was some damage visible to the building and two vehicles parked at the property. There were occupants inside the property but nobody was injured," Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Brand said, in a statement
"Police are treating this incident seriously and we are making a number of inquiries to establish the circumstances surrounding this incident."
Police and criminal sources told the Herald that such a direct attack on the Head Hunters could spiral into further violence, depending on how the gang sought retribution.
While no one was hurt, the shooting will have injured the pride of the Head Hunters, whose dominance in the criminal underworld has been threatened in recent years.
New gangs have established themselves in New Zealand after some senior members were deported from Australia, and recruited aggressively to increase their numbers.
In particular, the Mongols - a notorious motorcycle group with origins in the United States - have ruffled feathers with rival gangs in Tauranga and Christchurch, marked by shootings and suspicious fires of businesses and cars.
While no arrests have been made in the Marua Rd shooting, the Herald understands police are investigating whether simmering tension between the Head Hunters and the Mongols has boiled over.
Police declined to comment on this line of inquiry.
"At this stage it's too early to speculate on who may be involved," Brand said.
• Air NZ baggage handlers in lockdown meth bust
• Shipping container linked to gang vanishes with help of port worker
• The Head Hunters' $1m man in Tauranga
• From Harley Davidson to wheelchair: Inside the downfall of Killer Beez boss
• Patching over: Mongrel Mob leader's brother, nephew join rival Comanchero
• Gangs of New Zealand: Why gang numbers spiked by 50 per cent
• How a Sydney airport brawl changed NZ's gang scene forever
The premises at Marua Rd is currently restrained under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act, part of $6 million worth of assets the police want to seize from Head Hunters president Wayne Doyle. The evidence against Doyle is yet to be heard in court.
Even just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for someone to directly attack the Head Hunters pad so brazenly - this is the second time in two years.
But the blitz on Sunday morning is symbolic of the evolution of the organised crime world since the arrival of the Australian gangs.
Nicknamed "501s" after the section of the immigration law used to deport them on character grounds, law enforcement agencies believe these new gangs have a disproportionate influence on the criminal underworld because of their international connections, sophisticated counter-surveillance tactics, and aggressive approach to use firearms.
While New Zealand criminals have always carried firearms, this development has escalated so rival groups are more likely to shoot at one another.
"We see that as a very undesirable shift in our criminal landscape," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told the Herald in announcing Operation Tauwhiro in February to target firearms in the hands of criminals.
"While this is predominantly an issue between gangs and organised crime groups, people are dying and that's not okay. And, understandably, that causes fear in our communities. People should not have to live in an environment with this level of violence around them."
Those crimes often go unreported unless the violence spills into the public, or the consequences are fatal. But hospital data shows 350 people in Auckland have been treated for gunshot wounds in the past five years, the Herald has previously reported.
The proliferation in firearms also increases the risk for frontline police. Constable Matthew Hunt was fatally shot in West Auckland last year, the first police officer to be killed on duty for a decade.
As part of the nationwide crackdown on firearms, the police set up a specialist Firearms Investigations Team to focus on identifying the illegal supply chains.
Coster concedes there is no way of knowing how many weapons are still circulating in the underworld, which is a consequence of the firearms register being cancelled in the 1980s.
"We are still seeing those firearms in the hands of criminals and it's a cause for concern," said Coster.
"We believe with effort over the coming years we will gradually remove those firearms from the unlawful fleet."
As well as escalating the firearms violence in the underworld, investigators at police and Customs believe the Australian gangs have accelerated the need for greater vigilance against bribery and corruption.
"This kind of corruption is not unheard of internationally but New Zealand has been isolated from it for a long time," Bruce Berry, the head of investigations for Customs told the Herald in September.
"Now, we've been thrust into this space very quickly with the arrival of the '501s', with their greater sophistication and international connections. It's a scary story."
In the past two years, there have been a string of incidents which shows the law enforcement and business sector cannot be complacent about the threat of organised crime.
• A police recruit was sacked after being filmed taking drugs with the Comancheros, with police believing the compromising footage was intended to blackmail him in the future;
• Another police officer was jailed for leaking intelligence to a gang. Vili Taukolo was paid at least $70,000 to search for documents about a $50m drug bust;
• Air New Zealand baggage handlers were arrested for allegedly helping someone avoid border security checks and smuggle drugs into the country during the Covid lockdown;
• A suspicious shipping container flagged for inspection disappeared from the wharves on the back of the truck in the middle of the night with the help of a supervisor at the Ports of Auckland. The container was linked to the Mongols gang and $90,000 was found in a shoebox at the port supervisor's home.
In response to the potential corrupting influence of the Australian newcomers, the police established a National Integrity Unit last year to investigate links between officers and gang members.
"The deportees are bringing a different mindset. They need people like police officers, officials in other government agencies, to enable them to conduct business," Detective Superintendent Iain Chapman said.
"It's subtle, friendly, discreet. No one wakes up in the morning deciding to be corrupt ... it's a slow burn, and we have to make our staff aware of what that looks like."
• Anyone with information is asked to contact Police on 105, quoting file 210411/0402 or you can phone Crimestoppers on the condition of anonymity on 0800 555 111.