A church, the city mission and a notorious apartment block were targeted in a police drug bust in the Auckland CBD today.
16 people have been arrested after police acted on 10 warrants this morning.
They will appear in the Auckland District Court tomorrow. St-Matthew-in-the-City church was searched at 6.30am and its vicar, Helen Jacobi, said she alerted police to suspected drug dealing in the church and the carpark it shared with the city mission about four weeks ago.
Both a member of the clergy and a parishioner had been approached recently by people looking to buy drugs, while others had been asked "is the shop open?" Dr Jacobi said.
"We have a very open policy of hospitality and it's very sad it has been abused in this way... Around here and in the carpark there are continual places where people gather at night. It could have been going on for months."
People in the church had been feeling "a bit anxious and not so trusting" since the late-night dealing was noticed.
Dr Jacobi said the carpark would be upgraded and more security put in place around the church.The carpark is opposite the Imperial Gardens Apartments on Hobson St and at least two of the people facing charges are understood to live there.
The building manager and body corporate spokeswoman Joana Montgomerie wouldn't comment but another woman who lived in the apartments said she shared an elevator with police this morning.
Another resident saw 15 to 20 officers, some in "riot gear", raiding the building at 5.30am.
One cop had a rifle and another carried a shield.
The apartment block hit the headlines recently because of anti-social behaviour and a near fatal stabbing.
Housing New Zealand owns 40 of the 278 apartments at Imperial Gardens Apartments where two properties are thought to have been raided by police.
Housing NZ wouldn't say if any of its apartments were searched.
A nearby resident who wouldn't be named said she and her husband had been offered drugs when passing the Hobson St carpark.
She'd also witnessed drug dealing and another suspicious "quick exchange".
"I've lived on Hobson St for four years. In the last two years I've noticed it's grown really fast, but in the last six months it's been horrible."
A Hobson St resident, who didn't want to be named, said the drug dealers were also targeting people from Asia, Africa, India and the Middle East.
She said her husband and friends had been offered drugs when passing the Hobson St carpark.The woman said she sometimes felt unsafe in the area because of the dealers being present.
"I have seen a woman sitting and selling the drugs. Not just weed but packets with white powder in them too," she said.
She had also witnessed "really quick exchange" between people and dealers.
"I've lived on Hobson St for four years. In the last two years I've noticed its grown really fast but in the last six months it's been terrible."
MusicWorks employee Murray Hancox said he had seen groups of homeless people going into the apartment building from across the road on multiple occasions.
"I've seen whole groups heading across the road and going in. Down and out groups of people. I bet there's a tinny house there. It's just obvious."
Mr Hancox said there had been problems in the area for years.Homeless people had been found hiding in the MusicWorks carpark in the past sniffing glue and taking drugs, Mr Hancox said.
There were regular fights on the street and usually groups of "down-and-out" people loitering around, he said.
"I've often looked across and there's fights spilling out onto the street. We get people, just out of it people, coming in here. You often see cars pull up and people get out [offering drugs] but where they get their money from I don't know.
"You try and be giving as much as you can and think they've got to have somewhere but ... it's awful."
He said MusicWorks had called the police multiple times in the past about the drug and violence issues.
"It's a real issue, it's not going to go away anytime soon."
Mr Hancox wasn't at work when the bust occurred but another employee had seen it.
Auckland City Mission head Dame Diane Robertson said drug dealers in its carpark were targeting people who used its services.
"We go through spates of drug use in the area and every now and then police target it and it decreases."
Police say the arrests come after a seven-week investigation into "drug dealing on a wide scale".
Who's been arrested?
Eight men and eight women.
The search warrants were acted on this morning, when most arrests were made. A man and a woman were also arrested this afternoon.
Where did police search?
The area around Hobson, Wellesley and Federal streets, including St-Matthew-in-the-City and a carpark shared with the city mission. Properties in Te Atatu and Manurewa also.
'It affects the whole neighbourhood'
Auckland City Mission head Dame Diane Robertson said much of the drug dealing was occurring in the carpark it shared with St Matthew-in-the-City.
She said drug dealers were targeting City Mission clients but other people - including students and businesspeople - frequented the area.
Dame Diane said City Mission worked with police and other businesses to report incidents of dealing in the area.
"We go through spates of drug use in the area and every now and then police target it and it decreases.
"We call the police when we see it going on."
She said vulnerable homeless people could be both victims and perpetrators of drug dealing, but was more common for them to be targeted by dealers.
CCTV footage from in and around the City Mission had been shared with police to help combat the problem.
"It affects the whole neighbourhood.
"I think it's really good that the police have stepped in. It can build up so much that it becomes a major issue."
Dame Diane said the last major bust had been "a few years ago", and before police became involved, City Mission staff had witnessed 12 drug deals in the car park over 10 minutes.
"I think that in the whole we are a bit naive about the amount of drug use in the community, so I think it's fantastic that the police have done this and the mission is working with them as much as we can."
'Better for everyone' if area cleaned up
Auckland City Hotel operations manager Antonio Peralta said "a few" guests had told staff they felt unsafe because of homeless people in the area in the past.
He did not witness this morning's raid but said it would be positive if the area was cleaned up.
It was a key tourist destination with Sky City so close, he said.
"We have no issues with that but we've had feedback from some of our guests before. It would give [tourists] a negative impact.
"If it's going to be cleaned up it's better for everyone."
SkyCity referred questions to police when asked whether any of the company's properties were searched or CCTV footage included in the investigation.
Terri Small, the owner of nearby business Supreme Tours and Travel, said a number of homeless people congregated in the church car park area.
"That's where they go. There are a lot around," she said.
She did not hear or see any police presence outside the business, based on Wellesley St, this morning.
Detective Inspector Hayden Mander said the arrests were linked to "drug dealing on a wide scale" operating in Hobson and Wellesley streets.
Auckland police's organised crime unit has been operating a seven-week investigation following concerns raised by members of the public and local businesses and institutions.
"What they uncovered was alleged drug dealing on a wide scale, often aimed at vulnerable members of the community and conducted in clear view of the public," Mr Mander said.
"Police used a number of tactics to investigate the alleged offences, including the use of CCTV footage and plain clothed officers."
He said police were now working with a number of the key institutions in this area of the city to try to prevent the alleged offending from resurfacing.
"The alleged drug dealing took place in and around a number of premises on Hobson and Wellesley Streets and police will be working with the owners of those premises to ensure that medium and long term prevention strategies are put in place."