For most New Zealanders the only contact they have with gangs is a visual one. You feel a bit of fear as they roar past and around you on the road. You see their presence more as numbers have swelled in recent years and they congregate together in public places, patched up and looking really intimidating. You don't make eye contact and generally choose a different place to hang out.
But for many of us this week, they have come to our neighbourhoods, and we are under real threat as we live our lives in our own homes. Loaded guns firing shots at their rivals but also shooting at the wrong houses are putting innocent lives at risk. I'm scared. We have thugs, simpletons who can't even identify their right target, shooting up our neighbourhoods. Residents are finding bullet holes in their houses, one reported taking cover in her own lounge as shots echoed down her driveway. They don't care if innocent people are hurt or killed as rival gangs play out a deadly game of tit for tat.
Gang membership is up 44 per cent from October 2017 to February 2022 and violent crime is up 21 per cent - that doesn't include the dozen or so drive-by shootings in the last week alone. I absolutely support the work that is being done to address the drivers of crime. It is work that has been happening for decades and although one could easily argue it is not working as gang numbers rise, now is not the time to pull back. I have said it before and I will continue to repeat what is true. We have an outstanding police force. I feel a sense of pride when I see the women and men of Police doing their job, putting themselves at risk to keep us safe. They will respond in every way they can to the current attacks and risk to our safety and they don't need my commentary on how it should be done. I trust in our police and their ability.
I don't believe that they're being valued and supported by their commissioner, minister and the Government in general. I have written before about laws the Government could put in place now that would aid the police in the mammoth job they have ahead of them. Our leaders need to stand up, back our police and give them all the support and resource they need to keep us safe. It does not help when leaders like our current mayor reportedly state that there is a perception that our city isn't safe. It is not a perception, Mayor Goff, that is insulting to the woman cowering in her own lounge as bullets explode around her property.
The violence can no longer be ignored by the Government and by us. It is no longer something that is happening among them – it is happening to us.
Paula Bennett is a former Deputy Prime Minister and National Party politician who now works at Bayleys Real Estate as national director — customer engagement.