There are nearly 500 patched gang members and gang prospects who belong to some of the world's most notorious outlaw gangs living in Canterbury.

Figures provided to The Star by police show that at the end of April there were 481 gang members and prospects in the province.

They belong to such gangs with chapters across the globe as the Hells Angels and Bandidos motorcycle clubs.

The data comes from a police National Gang List released to The Star under the Official Information Act.

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The number has increased from 370 in December 2016.

Canterbury University professor and crime expert Greg Newbold agreed there is an increasing presence of patched membership in Canterbury.

"There are more gangs in New Zealand than there was before. The Rebels, the Hells Angels, Head Hunters, they have all made an appearance here in recent years and also, they are far more visible you see them around a lot. We are seeing increasing evidence on streets of patched motorcycle gang members riding around," he said.

The data coincided with the release of a report by police, Our Data – You Asked Us, the first ever publication which proactively shares answers to common data requests made to police under the Official Information Act.

It was produced as part of a strategy to build the public's trust and confidence in the police, through increased transparency and accessibility to police data.

The report shows Canterbury had the highest amount of organised crime and drugs demand and activity in New Zealand last year. Gangs are a big part of the illicit drug trade.

There were 1696 of these type of offences compared to the second-highest police region, Counties-Manukau, which had 1621.

The Auckland City region was the third highest with 1591.

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This offending has increased dramatically for Canterbury since 2015, when there was only 992 offences of this type.

In a breakdown of these offences, the most common was for cannabis, with 8152 offences recorded nationally last year.

Methamphetamine and amphetamine-related offences was the second-highest with 4296 recorded.

'Other drug offences' was the third highest, with 469 nationally in 2018.

Of these drug offences, possessing illicit drugs was the most common, with 6575 of these offences recorded nationwide last year.

The second highest with 4698 offences was 'other illicit drug offences that were not elsewhere classified,' followed by dealing or trafficking illicit drugs – 2047.

In the report, police say organised crime and gangs are "a corrupting influence that threaten the well-being and prosperity of our communities."

"They exploit the most vulnerable people through drugs, violence and intimidation. Organised crime is also often hidden and therefore the size and impact may be underestimated."

Canterbury University professor Greg Newbold says there are more gangs in New Zealand than there was before.
Canterbury University professor Greg Newbold says there are more gangs in New Zealand than there was before.

In January, 12 state agencies, which together are known as the New Zealand Gang Intelligence Centre Agencies, approved an Information Sharing Agreement.

The cross-agency approach aims to combine intelligence to reduce gang-related harm.

Newbold said gang members tended to be older now.

"They don't tend to go for the youngsters too much anymore, they are too crazy. It's not easy to become a patched member; you have to prospect for a number of years. They are not going to take teenagers in.

"They aren't too interested in patching people up under the age of 25," he said.

There are three categories of gangs and their associates, the 'hang-abouts', prospects and patched members, Newbold said.

"You get into a gang by hanging about with them and doing favours, running errands... Someone who habitually hangs out with them would be a formal associate, they don't wear a patch, but they socialise with them and make friends with them.

"Then you might be invited to be a prospect. Once you become a prospect you may sometimes wear a partial patch.

"Once you are a prospect you are linked in, you have real serious obligations in relation to the gang. You have to do all the running around. You can't vote at meetings, but you have to do as your told, you have to show total commitment to the gang and total reliability, staunchness, enthusiasm and loyalty," said Newbold.

A meeting will then be held to decide if you should become a patched member.

"The meeting has to be unanimous in deciding that you are a patched member. You don't want to make an enemy within the gang; you want to get along with everybody because they don't want the gang to be divided.

"It's about unity and brotherhood and fellowship . . . to be accepted, it's like graduation. It's a huge thing for a prospect. It's a big celebration for everybody."

Newbold said it was harder than ever before to become a gang member.

"They are much more discerning now. In the old days you had to just be an idiot and take a beating. Nowadays they are organised, they don't mess with that rubbish, you have to show you are a person of intelligence, integrity and commitment."

Police take a two-pronged approach to fight organised crime and the drug market.

The report says: "On the supply side, police work alongside domestic and international partners to disrupt, deter and dismantle organised criminal networks, and officers work to prevent importers and dealers of illicit drugs gaining a foothold in our communities."

Since July 2017, police has restrained about $103.5 million worth of cash and assets through organised crime and gang investigations, $29 million of which was related to methamphetamine importation, manufacturing and dealing.

"On the demand side, police supports drug users by referring them to treatment services to help them break the cycle of addiction," the report said.

Gangs in NZ

• Head Hunters MC
• Bandidos MC
• Hells Angels MC
• Highway 61 MC
• King Cobras
• Black Power
• Mongrel Mob
• The Tribesmen
• Rebels MC
• Devils Henchmen

- Star.kiwi