Gangs and guns: ‘Seeing stuff here that you have never seen before’

Source: 1News

Aucklanders are regularly confronted with gun violence, organised crime, and rising gang tensions. One of the country’s top police officers says he’s seeing things escalate like he has never seen before.

1News has regularly reported on violent crime in Auckland in 2021 and spoken extensively to residents impacted by it.

"We don't want to stay here anymore... I'm worried for my family," a father told 1News after his neighbour's house was sprayed with more than 20 bullets late on November 4.

"It's not just here, it's everywhere", said a woman who saw police swarm her neighbourhood after a man was shot dead in West Auckland a day later.

Police at Green Bay, West Auckland, after a shooting.

"It definitely feels like a lot more of this stuff is happening," another family said on the same day.

There have been shootings outside luxury hotels and violence in the streets, with innocent people often caught up in attacks — and Aucklanders have had enough.

"It's between gangs fighting against one another," said one witness.

Detective Superintendent Greg Willams runs the National Organised Crime Group.

He agreed to sit down with 1News for an extended interview on the state of the city.

The interview took place in a boardroom at their Auckland headquarters, a nondescript office building in the city with no police signage.

"It's a challenging environment out there, there is no doubt about it," he said, adding that untangling the current situation in the city was complicated, with many elements in play.

"You've seen a revamping of the Rebels, an expansion of the Comancheros, you've got existing gangs like the Head Hunters here, you've seen an expansion of [King Cobras]... you're seeing that expansion and with that you're seeing tension."

Armed officers block off Virgo Place, in Auckland's Glen Eden, after a gang-related assault.

The attraction for many was methamphetamine, he said, with New Zealanders still paying some of the highest prices in the world for the drug, which was getting cheaper for gangs to buy at a wholesale price.

It was the prevalent drug in New Zealand, according to wastewater testing.

"A lot of the violence you are seeing here is about market control."

Williams also spoke about Australia's 501s deportation policy.

"The percentage of gang members that are actually coming out of that number are not massive, but they are influential, they were leaders in Australia, and they've really changed the whole gang scene here," he said.

"We would have seen gangs like the Comancheros if not for that process."

He said the traditional New Zealand gangs would often resolve violence before it escalated. But, with the new players, that was not always the case anymore.

"You do something, I do something bigger, you do something," he said.

"You are consequently seeing stuff here that you have never seen before.

"The firing of multiple shots into a family home, even the firepower we are seeing now is concerning. AR-15s, AK-47s, we have even seen seizure of 50 calibre machine guns... so that's naturally concerning to us."

Evidence is photographed at the Yates Rd, Māngere, after more than 20 shots were fired at a family's home. The family has no gang links.

But, he said there was good news. Police had thrown resources at Operation Tauwhiro, which aimed at taking guns out of the hands of criminals.

As of August 2021, 987 weapons had been seized and the operation had been extended until March 2021.

Williams said police continued to work with partner agencies, including thousands of organisations in the private sector, to cripple the gang economy by cutting out demand for drugs and targeting their business structure.