Dozens of potential Head Hunters recruits are turning up in Auckland each month for training, the head of the Police Association has warned.

Greg O'Connor said along with rising gang numbers and activity, police officers were reporting that methamphetamine was now "rife", and easier to get than cannabis in some areas.

The Big Read: Inside the Head Hunters
Long-time public face of police retires

The long-serving Police Association president didn't hold back in his address to the association's annual conference in Wellington today, his last before stepping down from the role.

It sounds like their training budget is better than police's


With Police Minister Judith Collins sitting beside him, O'Connor slammed the Government for not increasing Police resourcing, and in particular police numbers.

Proactive policing of gangs was reducing, O'Connor told the audience.

"A very good example when I talk about organised crime is the Head Hunters...their numbers have gone from 135 to 275 patched and prospects in just the last two years.

"I am reliably informed that each month up to 70 new recruits front up in Auckland for what can only be considered in-service training. It sounds like their training budget is better than police's."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor. NZ Herald photo Mark Mitchell.
Police Association president Greg O'Connor. NZ Herald photo Mark Mitchell.

O'Connor said the country was facing a "second wave" of the methamphetamine problem, with Government efforts to curb the drug's availability failing utterly.

"I've recently visited most police districts in the country and overwhelmingly the message is that P is many cases is easier to access than cannabis."

With Police workload on matters including family violence, mental health and burglary call-outs, static officer numbers needed to rise, he said.

"We have a dangerous combination where methamphetamine is becoming more prolific, the policing of the gangs and organised crime groups is reducing as their numbers increase, and the availability and use of illicit rising.

"There is an ominous aligning of the planets that represents a significant change in the environment in which police are operating."

Police Minister Judith Collins has hinted that the Government will soon boost officer numbers. NZ Herald photo Mark Mitchell.
Police Minister Judith Collins has hinted that the Government will soon boost officer numbers. NZ Herald photo Mark Mitchell.

Asked about O'Connor's comments on the Head Hunters, Collins said she was not aware of such recruitment activity herself: "I can't say I have received an invitation from them".

"I'm sure [O'Connor] wouldn't say it if it was wrong. The fact is that gangs, particularly those fuelled by methamphetamine and the profits of it, are obviously trying to recruit more people, and they are trying to recruit them so they can get more [meth] distributed out in the country."

However, she did take issue with the assertion that policing of gangs was declining.

"Particularly when you see the hugely successful drug operations run by police. So I think things have actually improved a lot around the Search and Surveillance Act, and around the tools that police have."

Labour's police spokesman Stuart Nash said O'Connor's comments were "hugely concerning".

"Greg O'Connor is one of the most connected law enforcement officials in the country. If he is saying it is from a very reliable source, then it will be.

"My concern is that the gangs are intricately involved in the distribution of methamphetamine. We know that P is a major cause of crime in this country, we need to really get on top of this.

"The Government did set up a gang taskforce earlier on, and it just seems to be another one of these things that are all big words and no action."

Prime Minister John Key has indicated police numbers will increase, after lobbying from Collins.

Collins told today's conference that she had been really enjoying being back in the role of Police Minister, "until this morning - thanks Greg".

"I can tell you I have not been sitting on my bottom waiting for something to happen, or waiting for announcements. I have been working very hard to address the issues that you have raised. We will just have to wait and see just how successful I have been.

"I have been speaking with the Prime Minister since June this year and we have been working on something. I'm not going to announce anything today though - it's just got to be better than a mere minister can announce."

In addition, Collins said she had been talking with other ministers about how pressure could be taken off police, particularly in relation to social service-related call outs.

"I know that you are becoming more and more relied upon to deliver...I can tell you I am putting as much pressure as I possibly can, realistically, with my colleagues about the areas where other agencies could be stepping up more as well.

"It feels sometimes like a never-ending saga, that police are always being asked to pick up the pieces."

On gangs, Collins told the audience the Government's introduction of a Gang Action Plan, including an intelligence centre, was already paying dividends.

"I think we are the first government that has actually ever noted that gangs are really bad - they are not good for you, and they proliferate and bring violence and extreme misery.

"We are the first government that I can certainly ever recall to have not wanted to cuddle the gangs. I personally think that's a good thing."