Gangs crackdown: Suite of new rules released by government

The Government is set to bring in new rules in an attempt to "reduce the harm caused by gangs and make communities safer".

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Under the new rules police will be given more search and seizure powers and also include a proposal to ban "significant" cash payments for watches, cars and boats. The cash amount has not yet been decided.

As well, discharging a gun to intimidate could be punishable by up to five years in prison.

New Police Minister Chris Hipkins said that "recent brazen gang activities have been totally unacceptable and our communities deserve better".

"We want to hit gangs and other offenders where it hurts, by taking their guns, cars and motorbikes and making it harder to launder money, while also responding to increasing incidents of intimidation and violence on our roads and streets and in our homes."

The new rules would see police have targeted warrant and additional search powers to find and seize weapons from gang members during a gang conflict, make it a crime to intimidate someone by discharging a gun in any place, as currently it is limited to inside a dwelling, and expand the existing vehicle impoundment regime.

Police could also seize cash over $10,000 "when found in suspicious circumstances".

Hipkins said they wanted to target gang members' cars and motorbikes, and stop money laundering and intimidation.

Justice Minister Kiritapu Allan said they know that "the contributing factors for joining gangs hinged on socio-economic factors, families, community environments (or lack thereof) and a desire for a sense of belonging".

"Often these are inter-generational issues and they are complex."

Allan said while today's announcement was about tools for police, "we also are acutely aware that the best tool we have is prevention", in stopping people from getting into gangs and crime.

She said early intervention, rehabilitation and reintegration "is the most effective route to sustained and long-term prevention".

Allan would be looking at the youth justice sector.

New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill called the changes a solid start, saying the new warrant and search powers would allow police in certain circumstances to execute warrants any time for up to two weeks.

"The association has long been concerned about the overt display of wealth by many gang members because the flash vehicles and the ‘bling’ act as magnets for young people to join gangs," he said.

"Today’s tranche of initiatives makes a small start on addressing this issue by giving police the power to seize cash of more than $10,000 if there is no explanation for it. But again, the detail needs to be seen."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in June said there was no question there is an escalation in gang activity - on June 7 there had been more than 20 drive-by shootings in just two weeks.

National's acting police spokesperson Chris Penk said the package is too little, too late.

He said it tinkers around the edges "of a problem that the Government is not taking seriously".

"National has long called for greater search powers for police to take firearms out of the hands of gangs, so it is positive the Government is finally acting to provide these for Police. But this still doesn’t go far enough."

Penk said National would ban gang patches, give police more powers to prevent gang members communicating and "planning criminal activity", allow police to issue dispersal notices where gang members congregate in public and give police warrantless search powers "to take the guns out of the hands of violent armed gang members".

READ: National's Mark Mitchell challenged on National's proposed anti-gang laws

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said that "people deserve better than so-called 'tough-on-crime' rhetoric that ignores the real drivers of crime".

"The recent episodes of gang violence and crime will be scary for whānau and our communities. But granting police expanded powers is not going to address the problem of organised crime, prevent violence, or keep people safe. Protections in our Bill of Rights Act require the police to have real cause to suspect someone of offending before they can enter their home or take their property.

"Expanding police powers of search and seizure is an attack on these minimum standards. We know that Māori and Pasifika are many times more likely to be the subject of these searches - and that is just going to get worse because of today’s announcement."