Gang insignia has been banned from government buildings, schools, and hospitals since 2013. As Australian gangs arrive in New Zealand, officials are looking to amend the law to ensure it keeps up.
New Zealand citizens deported from Australia are flooding the country with new gang patches, and the law designed to ban them may not be able to keep up.
The Prohibition of Gang Insignia Act bars people from wearing gang patches or insignia on all government premises, with breaches punishable by a fine of up to $2000.
For the law to be enforced, the gang in question must be listed in the Act.
Currently there are 34 gangs specified in the Act including more obscure organisations such as the Aotearoa Natives and the Greasy Dogs alongside more well-known gangs including the Mongrel Mob and the Tribesmen.
But this long list appears to now be insufficient, as new gangs from overseas arrive in New Zealand.
A briefing from police to Minister Paula Bennett, released under the Official Information Act, raises concerns about the increase in New Zealand citizens being deported from Australia who are members of non-listed gangs.
It says amending the primary Act every time a new gang emerged was a resource intensive process and during this time non-listed gangs were not covered by the Act.
The briefing notes how may citizens were expected to be deported in the next two years and how many would be from non-listed gangs, but these figures were redacted.
“This includes the Comanchero, Lone Wolf, Finks, Mongols, Notorious and Descendants motorcycle clubs.”
A table breaking-down the memberships of each currently active gang in New Zealand was also redacted, except for the total gang membership of 4679. At the time of the briefing, 29 gang members had been charged under the Act.
Introducing a measure whereby the Act applied to new gangs as soon as they emerged was desirable, with one option changing the regulations to refer to the National Gang List rather than individual gangs.
Bennett was convinced, writing to Minister of Justice Amy Adams in February asking her to include the issue on the Ministry of Justice’s work programme.
“My view is that the Act must apply to all gangs that are present in New Zealand as soon as possible. This could be achieved through developing regulations rather than through amending the list in the primary Act in the first instance.”
But in a statement Bennett said had the power to add new gangs onto the list by Order in Council and had yet to be asked by police to do so.
“As new gangs develop in New Zealand, regardless of where they come from or how they’re formed, I will add them to the list of gangs under the Act.
“Police would prefer the list to be more fluid, however we do have the ability to add new gangs, therefore it’s not my top priority.”
Gangs more sophisticated than ever
Meanwhile, the Government is pushing ahead with its action plan on gangs.
In a second briefing to Bennett, police note gangs were evolving with methamphetamine the focus.
“The profile of gangs in New Zealand show they are becoming more organised and sophisticated, and continuing to cause social harm in their own communities and criminal harm to wider New Zealand communities disproportionate to their numbers.”
Some gangs were increasingly using intimidation tactics, with firearms, to compel others to manufacture and traffic drugs so they could avoid detection, it says.
Introduced in 2014, the action plan is a police-led collaboration with four key areas: a Gang Intelligence Centre to share information, social initiatives targeted at gang families, taskforces to tackle organised drug and financial crime, and a legislative toolkit to better monitor gang activity.
The briefing notes successes including better sharing of information across agencies and drug taskforces, while progress on reducing social harm in gang families and introducing tougher legislative measures has been “much slower”.
Included in the report are some sobering figures.
Making up about 0.1 percent of the population, gang members were charged with 12 percent of all homicides, 13 percent of all kidnappings, four percent of robberies, six percent of grievous assaults, and six percent of methamphetamine charges.
Almost all had received a benefit at some point, with the average time on a main benefit 8.9 years.
About a quarter were recorded as having been abused or neglected as a child, while around 3000 children of gang members were recorded as having suffered the same.
“The systemic, intergenerational, organised nature of gang activity and infrastructure demands an even more sophisticated, multi-agency response on many fronts.”
An updated gang strategy for 2017-2022 is currently being developed.