A 30 per cent increase in gang activity in the Eastern District has created a region which is even more awash with drugs than it was two years ago, police say.
Figures released by Police Minister Stuart Nash through written parliamentary questions showed a jump from 801 Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti gang members in 2017, to 1041 to the end of August this year.
Roughly one in six of New Zealand's gang members now live in the Eastern District.
Across the country, gang membership has increased from 5343 to 6729 people.
Eastern District prevention manager Inspector Dean Clifford said there had been a "considerable increase" in gang presence in Hawke's Bay in the past two years.
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"We have been cognisant and aware of that for some time and have been working to try and combat the effects of that growth over the last period," Clifford said.
He said the gangs, and the drug trade, particularly methamphetamine, go "hand in hand" and additional gang members had contributed to the growth in P use in the region.
"We know from wastewater analysis earlier this year that Hawke's Bay has some of the highest rates per capita for meth in wastewater in the country.
"The gangs are driving that supply and local police will be working hard to disrupt that trade."
Clifford said police were hopeful of change ahead.
"The aim is to make communities resilient to gang activity because they are involved in crime and intimidation and the drug trade.
"The impact on people who deal with them can be serious but therefore we need to try and work with communities who are impacted, together come up with mechanisms to resist things like the drug trade and the influence there but that's ahead of us."
In the meantime, he said they will be focusing on enforcement and investigation.
He added that out of the Government's planned increase for staffing, they've invested and will continue to invest police resources into organised crime and fighting gangs.
Tukituki National MP Lawrence Yule said the Government's "soft on crime approach" had led to the increase.
"Whether it's the latest female extension of the Mongrel Mob, gang members refusing to hand in their illegal firearms and brazen gang meetings happening in public places like Te Mata Peak, gangs are growing more confident.
"The Government has been focused on reducing prison numbers at any cost, but it doesn't have a plan to reduce crime."
He said National tried to introduce Firearms Prohibition Orders which would have meant police had "more powers" to search gang members for illegal firearms, but the Government voted down their Bill.
"It's clear the focus on stopping crime before it starts just isn't there under this Government.
"Gangs do nothing but peddle misery, are disrespectful and violent towards women, and create victims.
"National is the party of law and order and we will release a comprehensive Gang Plan in 2020 that will crack down hard on gangs," Yule said.
However, Nash, also Napier Labour MP, said the claims don't stand up to scrutiny.
"The growth in gang numbers pre-dates this government and is linked to the explosion in the methamphetamine trade over the past decade," he said.
"This government is working across a number of fronts to target the harm caused by organised crime and gangs behind the methamphetamine trade."
He said that as part of the government investment in 1800 extra police, 700 officers will be specifically assigned to crime prevention and organised crime and gangs.
The number of frontline police officers has increased by 10 per cent since 2017.
Nash said the huge profits which can be made from methamphetamine are driving gang recruitment, as gangs seek to be a part of the distribution networks.
"A large part of the growth in the methamphetamine trade and gang recruitment can be traced to criminals deported from Australia, which began under the previous government," Nash said.
Since 2015, 1800 offenders have returned.
"These returning offenders are bringing a level of professional organisation and business skills to the methamphetamine trade which has not been seen before."