Top police officials say we "can't arrest our way out of gangs", and to keep trying would be "the definition of lunacy".
So, Bay of Plenty cops are pioneering a better way of reducing gang harm in the region.
Bay of Plenty gang harm reduction coordinator Sergeant Damian White said the Bay was the first region to introduce gang harm reduction teams three years ago.
He said their work focused on harm prevention, rather than just punishment, engaging with gang members at hui to solve problems before they escalate into crime.
While some think a hard-line approach to gangs is better, White said punishment wouldn't work on its own.
"Look back over the past 60 years. It hasn't worked, and it won't work.
"It's the definition of lunacy to keep doing the same thing over and over.
He said harm reduction gets to the root of gang problems, addressing the history of colonisation and racism that leads to gang crime.
He said gang members were often looking for a sense of belonging and connection.
"They're the marginalised of the marginalised ... a lot of them are taken away from where they're from, their turangawaewae."
The National Gang List recorded 1493 gang members in the Bay of Plenty last April, the most of any region.
White said gang numbers aren't actually growing in the Bay, "we're just getting better at identifying gang members".
He said their approach did not mean they were "going soft" on gangs.
"We haven't gone away from enforcement actions. That's still there. This is just another option ... it's another tool in the toolbox.
"We will enforce the law. It's not that we're not holding these guys to account, it's just that we're trying to find better outcomes and better pathways for them.
"We're not naive enough to think that we're changing everyone and it's all happy families ... it's not our first rodeo."
White said the teams had brought "massive changes" to the way police deal with gangs and "awesome outcomes" in the number of gang confrontations, both with police and with each other.
He said it's hard to measure the impact of the teams because they're focused on prevention.
"There's no real, tangible stats on violence that we stopped ... but we know for a fact we've gotten in between a whole lot of violence that could have occurred.
"Not every gang member that we deal with is a criminal ... so there are guys who can live a normal lifestyle. So, how do we look at what they're doing and replicate that?
"If that was your son or daughter, you'd think 'actually, how do I help this guy?' So that's what we're trying to do.
"There are people out there who want help, who want better outcomes. Why can't we try to help them get there?"
White said the teams were created by Superintendent Andy McGregor and Inspector Phil Taikato, who saw "a need to engage with our gang community in a different way".
McGregor, the Bay of Plenty's district area commander, said there were risks involved in this more engagement-based approach, but "a lot of the time it has proven to be very successful".
"A lot of them [gang members] want to actually change the way they live - they still want to be part of a gang because of that sense of belonging, but actually they want to be free of a life of crime.
"They want exactly what we want."
He said gang tangi (funerals) and hui (meetings) which would previously have involved petty crime and intimidation were now much safer events because police expressed their expectations beforehand.
He said members of the public had complained about traditional police enforcement of gang gatherings, such as roadblocks that cause traffic congestion.
"What happens is that the gangs actually discipline their own members in terms of those that fall out of line.
"For us, that's a big win, and I think for members of the public, that's a win as well."
He mentioned a large gang hui in Opotiki which was able to be policed by 15-20 staff, where previously it would have taken 80-100.
"Like it or not, we've got a lot of gang members in the Bay of Plenty.
"Historically, we've banged heads with them, we've arrested them, things like that. You can't arrest yourself out of situations like this.
"Now, we're actually doing things a better way."
Constable Timoti Gardiner, a gang harm reduction officer, works in the Western Bay area.
He said he felt drawn to the role as a Māori man to help prevent harm and connect with those in need.
"A lot of our gang members are Māori, and struggling."
He said the gang hui usually had a positive atmosphere, and gave some gang members the chance to vent their feelings.
"We're better prepped to engage in a more positive way because we know how to deal with them."
He said community services were more willing to engage with gang members with police overseeing it.
For instance, Male Survivors addressed the gang members at one hui to help heal trauma from sexual abuse.
"It's giving them a platform to give them the right information, so they can make their own informed decisions ... they don't usually get stuff like that," Gardiner said.
Lani Hewson, based in Wellington, assists the team as a senior member of the national partnerships and harm reduction team.
She said the teams were "looking at how we can better work together around organised crime to get better outcomes."
She said a punitive approach "just pushes the problem back".
"We need to be better and think differently."