The Mongrel Mob gang is making a big push into Christchurch's underworld scene.
About 40 to 50 North Island members have moved south.
The Herald understands the gang - the biggest in the country - is strengthening its numbers in the city, which has been rocked by an alleged gang-related homicide and two gang shootings this year.
It's understood that many of those shifting down from the North Island are coming from around the Hawke's Bay region, where the underbelly organisation has a major foothold.
Some Mob members have already joined Christchurch chapters over the past few months, the Herald believes.
Gangs expert, sociologist and author of Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand Jarrod Gilbert said it's "incredibly rare" to have so many gang members migrate to a new centre permanently.
But he described it as a "balance-changing move" which could upset the delicate gang eco-system in the city.
"When you upset that balance in the gang scene, it can lead to a very real threat of inter-gang violence," Gilbert said.
The increased action comes after a double shooting in the North Canterbury town of Kaiapoi in the early hours of January 4, in which Fairmont Joseph Wiringi, son of Joseph Wiringi, the local Mongrel Mob president was shot.
The shootings happened just days after Head Hunters associate Kane Wayman was allegedly murdered after going to a Mongols MC New Year's Eve party at their Burnham headquarters.
Since the ramping up of gangland violence, the Mongrel Mob's Bowhill Rd gang-pad has beefed up security measures.
The Herald also understands the Mighty Mongrel Mob Barbarian MC – a motorcycle chapter offshoot – is planning a national hui in Christchurch this weekend.
About 80 riders from around the country are descending on the city for a long-weekend meet-up before heading off to other towns.
It's expected that police, who say they are aware of the ride, will be monitoring it closely.
A 2019 New Zealand Police organised crime governance group insights report found that the New Zealand adult gang population is "growing rapidly", and violent and drug-related crime was proportionally rising.
Mongrel Mob membership grew by 273 members (up 12 per cent) between August 2018 and June 2019, according to the police data. There were an estimated 548 gang members across all gangs in Canterbury in 2019. The Mongrel Mob was one of the most numerous across its many factions, which include Notorious, South Island, Aotearoa, Rogues, Barbarians, Fatherland, and others, not all of which coexist harmoniously.
Police said while gang membership was generally increasing around New Zealand, and was not an issue specific to Canterbury, it is "difficult to quantify due to its fluid nature".
"Unfortunately, gang offending is not an issue that police can solve alone," Detective Senior Sergeant Brett Shields said.
"It is a community issue that requires a multi-faceted approach because of the many factors at play."
There has been a seismic shift in Christchurch's gang landscape in recent years.
In have come Australian bikie gangs like the Mongols MC and Rebels MC, shaking up the city's established underworld hierarchy.
Last year, Mongols MC members, including national president Jim David "JD" Thacker, himself a 501 deportee, established a chapter in the city after patching over ex-members of the notorious Hells Angels international bikie group, including Jason Ross, who would be made the local president.
The Mongols - marked by their distinctive symbol of Genghis Khan riding a motorcycle – set up a South Island headquarters at a rural property near Burnham south of Christchurch, just off State Highway 1. They had already established a major presence in the Bay of Plenty before the move south and been targeted by police in Operation Silk, which resulted in guns seized and dozens of charges.
Just after they rolled into town, a barbershop on Wainoni Rd, with only tenuous links to Ross, was gutted after a firebombing.
And then a month later, the Burnham gang-pad was shot at in a drive-by shooting, before it was raided by police who found a cache of firearms, including military-style semi-automatics, drugs, and $50,000 in cash.
In December 2018, Nomads gang associate Shayne "Smiley" Heappey was killed in a frenzied knife attack during a planned "hiding" over breaking gang rules. Patched Nomads enforcer Matthew Winara Webber was jailed for at least 15 years.