Mixed reaction to gang-patch law

By Corey Charlton, Sam Hurley

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A new law banning gang insignia in public spaces such as schools and swimming pools has received a mixed response from community leaders.


Police have the power to seize gang patches and official colours, and offenders face a $2000 fine, after the Prohibition of Gang Insignia Government Premises Bill passed into law this week.


While police believe the threat of having gang members' highly sought after patches seized will create an incentive to adhere to the law, local leaders have mixed responses.


Labour's Napier spokesman, Stuart Nash said he was not a fan of gangs or gang patches, but such an issue would continue to prove controversial.


''It's an issue that we will continue to take a long time debating,'' he said.


''There seems to me to be a need for stronger measures that need to be implemented on reducing crime by other means - goodness me is it really that important to be turned into law?''

Napier Mayor Barbara Arnott said: ''We don't have any problems with that [gang patches] in Napier currently.


'' You would rather adults modelled their behaviour appropriately around children and set a good example, you're the role models for your kids.


''You can already get people to dress appropriately in some of these areas, so I'm not sure it's going to make much of a difference.''


A Hawke's Bay police spokeswoman said gangs historically had a presence in Hawke's Bay, in particular the Mongrel Mob, which had been well established for several decades.


She said gangs were responsible for a large percentage of crime in the community, mainly involving drugs, theft and violence and it was evident Hawke's Bay's gangs were part of a national trend of gangs working together to manufacture, distribute and sell drugs.


The law change will apply to 34 gangs identified in the legislation, but also allows the Minister of Police to identify an organisation as a gang.


Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule was supportive of the bill and noted some events already had a self-imposed ban on gang patches.


''Our Waitangi celebrations, the organisers ban gang patches and at sporting events people on the sidelines are not permitted to wear them,'' he said.


''We don't have a particular problem with gang patches in Hastings like other areas with gang rivalries - we used to but I don't think we have that anymore.''


He did not believe the bill would create and add pressure on police resources to enforce the new law.

This was a stance supported by police, who say it would not be difficult to enforce, nor would it create heightened tension between gangs and police.


''Gang insignia is often worn as a badge of pride and it is highly probable that the gang member has committed crimes to earn the right to wear a gang patch,'' Acting Assistant Commissioner Glenn Dunbier said.


''Police believe the fear of having their gang insignia seized and destroyed will create the greatest incentive for gang members not to break this new law.''


In 2011, Mongrel Mob member Rawiri Mana Tehau successfully overturned a court order to have his patch destroyed after a charge of disorderly behaviour.


The order, thought to be the first of its kind in Hawke's Bay, arose after he was convicted in Hastings District Court of a charge of disorderly behaviour.


Police officers claimed it was worn for intimidation during the incident.

Napier and Tukituki National MPs Chris Tremain and Craig Foss were both staunch supporters of the new law.


''Our families have the right to be protected from intimidation by gang members, especially in the buildings families, as ratepayers and taxpayers, fund,'' Foss said.


''I am amazed that the Labour Party voted against and opposed this protection.''


The Labour Party's opposition to the law change also came under fire from Mr Tremain, who said the more they could do to ''tighten the noose'' on the strong Bay gang presence, the better.


'' Gangs gain their power through intimidation. Intimidation is delivered through numbers in the gang and the shared identity of the patch.''


- additional reporting APN

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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