Gang members wearing patches or official colours in public spaces such as schools and swimming pools will soon face arrest or fines as a law change to stamp out gang-related intimidation nears its final hurdle.
A private member's bill banning gang insignia in places owned by the Crown or local authorities was expected to pass into law this evening. The new police powers to arrest offenders and seize their insignia would come into force within a few days.
The Prohibition of Gang Insignia Government Premises Bill's sponsor, National MP Mark Mitchell, said he did not expect an escalation in tension between police and gang members as a result of the new regulations.
He believed the law change would act as a deterrent and would not generate a greater workload for police officers responding to complaints about gang members in public spaces.
The bill's original sponsor, National MP for Rotorua Todd McClay, tabled the bill in response to community marches against gangs in Murupara which took place after the murder of a youth who was killed because his school uniform was the colour of a rival gang in the region.
Murupara Area School welcomed the changes, though it had already banned gang colours because of the tension between Mongrel Mob and Tribesmen members in the central North Island township.
Board of Trustees chair Jacob Te Kurupa said his school's zero tolerance policy on gang patches had proved successful: "They don't even get through the front gate."
He said the law change would give their principal another tool to reduce the influence of gangs on young people.
"We have a pretty tough-line principal who takes the gang insignia or the colours off the students and cuts them up right in front of her.
"It's just another feather in the cap for her - a legislative tool if she needs to call the police."
Submitters, including gangs, expressed concern that the bill would be too broad and accidently capture people who were innocently wearing gang colours.
At the second reading it was supported by National, Act, United Future, New Zealand First and Brendan Horan and opposed by Labour, Greens, Maori and Mana.
Labour opposed the bill because they felt it did not address the underlying causes of gang activity, such as poverty, alienation and youth disillusionment.
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.
This was designed to prevent gangs from getting around the rules by changing their names slightly.
The bill banned insignia in schools, police buildings, public hospitals or District Health Board buildings, public swimming pools, Housing New Zealand and Work and Income buildings.
It gave police power to arrest people wearing gang colours in these places, seize their insignia. If they were found guilty they could be fined $2000 and have their insignia destroyed.
Police would also be able to stop vehicles to search for suspected gang colours.