Saturday, December 4

Growing tensions between gangs accused of rising firearms crimes

There has been a 49 per cent increase in reported injuries as a result of firearm crime in Auckland City over the past year and a half, compared to the previous two years.

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Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

Gun crime rates in 2020 were the highest in history, and police attributed the situation to rising tensions between gangs.

The police launched Operation Tauwhiro in response, targeting firearms-related violence by criminal gangs and organized crime groups, and have extended that operation six more months after its initial success.

The data obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act breaks down firearms crimes by month for the last 13 years and shows how many injuries or deaths have been caused as a result.

In 2020, there were 777 firearm crimes per million people, almost 10 percent more than the previous year.

In the same year, 277 injuries from 3,953 crimes were recorded, the highest number ever recorded.

But when comparing that to the population, the firearm-related injury rate was the fifth worst on record, being the highest the previous one in 2016.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the statistics were not a surprise.

“Fortunately, most of that violence is between groups and is not directed at members of the public,” he said.

“However, every time firearms are used in public spaces it creates a risk and that is why it is so important.”

The figures are also broken down by region.

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Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.
Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

In Auckland City over the past 18 months, there was a 32 percent increase in firearm crime and a 49 percent increase in gun-related injuries compared to the previous two years.

In Waitematā, there was a 25 percent increase in firearm crime and a 43 percent increase in injuries.

Across the Auckland region, there was a 36 percent increase in firearm crime and a 29 percent increase in injuries.

Coster said those statistics were the reason Operation Tauwhiro was launched.

“I’m not surprised at all. You know this operation was necessary because the gangs were effectively shooting at each other.

“We see in incidents week by week that these things happen and, you know, we have to stop that damage, even if it is between people who are offending, it really is not right for that to happen in our communities.”

Tasman and Waikato also saw firearm-related injuries rise more than 40 percent, while Wellington was an outlier, with injuries falling 29 percent.

Across Auckland, the data also showed the impact Covid lock-ups had on firearm crime, with large drops in crime and injuries during lock-ups last year.

But then gun crime exploded as restrictions were relaxed.

“I’m not sure there is necessarily a causal factor,” Coster said.

“Obviously when we get out of lockdown, all sorts of things go back to normal. I have no reason to believe that coming out of lockdown causes gun violence, and we will be very focused on this with the continuation of Operation Tauwhiro.

“We will continue our approach to law enforcement in any group where violence is taking place. And other things are happening in the background here as well, which is the investigation of sources of firearms.

“As we withdraw firearms from the gangs, it is important that we close other sources.”

Operation Tauwhiro may have made a dent in firearm crime, but Commissioner Coster will not claim credit for now.

At this point, gun crime rates are nearly 10 percent lower than last year, in line with 2019 figures.

Some of the firearms seized in Operation Evansville from the police.

Firearms seized by the police earlier this year.
Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Police

Police Minister Poto Williams said Operation Tauwhiro had been a great success and was pleased that it had been extended for six more months.

“The government has never been more active in cracking down on gangs and organized crime, and getting gang leaders off our streets,” Williams said.

“With the extension of Operation Tauwhiro, this government continues to take steps to ensure that New Zealanders and their families are safe.”

Operation Tauwhiro was funded from core police funds, and Williams said that would continue to be the case.

“I think the police, you know, this is the way the police are operating it, it’s part of the job that they do as, you know, a kind of day-to-day policing,” Williams told RNZ.

“So, you know, happy to support, but I know the police are getting this job done under the current baseline.”

National Party police spokesman Simeon Brown said that if the government wanted to claim credit for the success of Operation Tauwhiro, it needed to offer more support to the police.

“The government announced in May that it would introduce Firearms Ban Orders to give the police new powers,” Brown said.

“Since then they have been sitting on their hands and we have yet to see the legislation go to Parliament. It is absolutely critical that such legislation is before Parliament as soon as possible, so that the police have more tools in the toolbox.”

Williams said the Firearms Prohibition Orders legislation would be brought into the home in November and not available to police until at least the middle of next year.

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