Zero tolerance on youth gangs

By Louisa Cleave, Simon Collins

Counties-Manukau police have imposed an "always-arrest" policy for anyone caught carrying weapons or committing acts of violence, in the wake of escalating gang feuds.

District commander Steve Shortland told Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis and about 20 other community leaders yesterday that the policy was adopted after a series of gang incidents in the past month, and before the latest attacks on Sunday which killed Otara man Iulio Naea Kilepoa.

"In the last few weeks we have arrested more than 50 people for committing violent offences or carrying weapons. That is going to be our stance," Mr Shortland said.

Sir Barry said police estimated that about 245 young people in the Otahuhu/Mangere/Papatoetoe area, belonged to 53 gangs in six main groups including Black Power, King Cobras and Tribesmen.

Police believed there might be similar numbers in the Otara/Flat Bush area.

"It seems that some of these young people are related to particular schools, so you have schools versus schools, and [other] young people that relate to some of the mainstream gangs," Sir Barry said.

He said the council would call public meetings next week in both Mangere and Otara, inviting school principals, alternative education providers, church leaders, other community leaders - and the parents of gang members.

Auckland police say they have already adopted a zero-tolerance approach to youth gang members and have a community strategy.

It involves meetings with schools, church leaders, council staff and shopping mall security managers.

Western area commander Inspector Jim Wilson said police were charging gang members who gathered in local parks with trespass, and executing search warrants.

"Where we know there's gatherings of these youth gang members at particular addresses we've been executing search warrants and recovering a quantity of weapons that were going to be used in planned attacks on other gangs."

The eastern area commander, Chief Inspector John Palmer, said police were sending a "clear message" to youths that they would be arrested.

Mr Palmer said he had few problems with local gangs, but "thugs from South Auckland" were coming into the eastern suburbs looking for trouble.

Gang members armed with wood and hammers turned up at Onehunga High School last month and assaulted the principal, two staff members and a student.

Police arrested about 15 South Auckland teenagers who arrived at Penrose High School several months ago armed with fence posts and other weapons, said Mr Palmer.

Otara community leaders met separately yesterday and will hold their own meetings with the local community board on Monday night and with the Otara community network group on Tuesday night.

Mangere-based Manukau City councillor James Papali'i said he hoped to talk to gang leaders to see if they could take part in the meetings and call "a truce on the violence".

"I don't see gangs as a problem. I see them as a reality," he said.

"I believe that gangs can sometimes be, and are, part of the solution with a lot of issues ... if gangs are engaged and dialogue and solutions are seen to come from them."

Youth worker Allan Va'a said a truce would be only a first step towards "dealing with gang issues and gang violence in a positive way".

Sir Barry said police had asked government for a study of the youth gang issue in the Auckland region, including "the scale of the problem and perhaps finding a way forward".

He also wants the Government to pay for a co-ordinator in Mangere, and possibly another in Otara, "to identify all the ... service delivery groups that have some impact on the lives of young people, identify the scale of each problem and ensure that there is co-ordination".

Manukau East MP Ross Robertson and the regional managers of the Ministries of Maori Development (Te Puni Kokiri) and of Pacific Island Affairs attended the meeting and take these messages to Wellington. additional reporting: Louisa Cleave.

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