A worsening turf war between rival gangs and the criminal trade of illicit drugs has seen hundreds of shooting victims hospitalised across Auckland as the number of firearms in circulation grows.
The city’s mayor says the rising tally of gun violence victims is a serious concern, with the bloodshed causing significant anxiety and undermining people’s right to feel safe.
Figures released exclusively to the Herald by Auckland’s three district health boards show the city’s hospitals have treated nearly 350 patients for firearms injuries since January 2016.
Half of the victims were from Counties Manukau, with Middlemore Hospital patching up 171 patients. Thirteen children who’d been shot were cared for at Starship hospital.
And though South Auckland is a hotbed, there is growing anxiety among West Auckland communities following a spate of shootings around Glen Eden and New Lynn that has left two dead and others fighting for their lives in recent months.
Police say they have zero tolerance for gun violence, while Auckland mayor Phil Goff said recent shootings and gang-related crime were “completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated”.
“I strongly support the full sanction of the law being applied against those using firearms to commit crime or violence against others in their community. Those who use firearms know that the use of such a weapon will seriously or fatally injure the person against whom they are used.”
An innocent family was forced to flee their Māngere East home last month after they miraculously dodged more than 20 bullets fired at the property during a terrifying night-time shooting.
The house was left riddled with bullet holes. The incident is believed to be a case of mistaken identity.
Father of two Robert James Hart was shot and killed in broad daylight on a Great North Rd driveway last month, just metres from staff cleaning a neighbouring New Lynn motel. Four people have been charged with his murder.
In October, five Head Hunters gang members were arrested by armed police at a Henderson gang pad after a shooting on New Lynn’s Astley Ave which left a man seriously injured.
And a Glen Eden resident was shot dead by police after setting his home ablaze then opening fire on officers on November 30 in Danube Lane. He had also pointed his weapon at neighbours.
The OIA figures show nearly 60 people have been hospitalised this year alone across Auckland and taxpayers have spent nearly $9 million treating the city’s shooting victims in the last six years.
Auckland DHB recorded six firearms deaths in the last two years, while 54 Counties Manukau patients were admitted for at least five days after being shot.
Leg/foot/genitals were the most commonly injured body part, along with hands, torso, chest, head, arm, back, ear and eye.
The figures include accidental shootings and self-harm incidents.
Middlemore Hospital’s emergency department clinical director Dr Vanessa Thornton told the Herald there had been an increase in firearms injuries, which was frustrating for medical staff.
“It’s like all deliberate violence, it’s something that could be prevented.
“When you’re treating patients where something has happened as a result of violence, you think, ‘Gosh, this could have been stopped’.”
South Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina said the numbers were alarming.
A joint effort was needed to tackle the problem encompassing police, Auckland Council, Government agencies and social services, but it must be community-led.
Filipaina said more youth workers were needed to target vulnerable communities where gangs were recruiting young people by offering big money.
“If they can’t recruit the young ones it’s going to be a harder job to recruit people to the gangs.”
He said community leaders must engage directly with gang leadership, and families associated with organised crime needed to speak up about criminal activity and firearms.
“What do we do here because our families are being caught in the middle.”
Goff said the level of gun violence was creating fear, particularly in South and West Auckland.
He had met regularly with police and raised his concerns about the number of shootings directly with Police Minister Poto Williams.
He’d been assured the Government had increased Auckland’s police capacity to help ensure public safety, with more officers specifically targeting serious and organised crime.
“I welcome this increase in police staffing, as well as the use of the Proceeds of Crime Act to make gang involvement in organised crime less attractive.
“As a firearms owner myself, I endorse the tighter gun controls implemented by Government in recent years, and welcome the Government’s introduction of new legislation this month to further prohibit high-risk offenders’ ability to access firearms.”
In a recent column, gang expert Jarrod Gilbert argued that while gang violence attracted significant attention, police data showed the number of firearm incidents this year was not exceptional.
“The gangs make terrific headlines and even better political fodder. And while there certainly are concerns that need to be addressed, suggestions that current gang violence is worse than it has been in the past doesn’t bear great scrutiny.”
Assistant Police Commissioner Sandra Venables said any firearms incident was concerning, particularly when someone was injured or killed.
Police had made significant arrests this year following gang tensions that had spilled over into organised crime using firearms against one another.
The launch of Operation Tauwhiro had seen the seizure of 987 firearms, nearly $5 million in cash and 865 arrests as of September.
The problem was not confined to a single region, Venables said. Police were concerned at the prevalence of firearms being used within certain groups in our society.
“Police work closely with our communities and their eyes and ears can provide important assistance in our investigations. There will be some individuals who know of people illegally in possession of firearms or that are engaging in this sort of behaviour.”
Anyone with information on suspicious or illegal activity could report it in confidence to police or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
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