A gang war could be on the cards in Whangarei as tensions among rival Black Power and Headhunters gang members reach boiling point.
Police have confirmed they are aware of the tensions, highlighted by a brawl among about 30 members of the two gangs at a rugby league tournament at Hora Hora, Whangarei, last weekend.
The Hora Hora stoush was believed to have been in retaliation for earlier violent incidents between the gangs in downtown Whangarei.
The city has traditionally been a Black Power stronghold but members of the Headhunters, who have a base in Otaika, have been making their presence felt this year.
The Northern Advocate understands animosity is growing between the gangs over the recruitment of gang prospects.
The Headhunters gang is a tightly knit, interracial group.
Its members nationwide have more than 1000 criminal convictions among them.
But it now prefers to keep a low profile and is usually pulled up only in major drug investigations.
One man who knows several gang members in Whangarei told the Advocate police should be taking a hard line on gang trouble-makers before tensions explode between the warring factions.
"I have been noticing the rising tensions for the last few months and it's not good. It's becoming a problem," the man, who did not want to be named, said.
Whangarei teenagers on the fringes of the gangs also needed pulling into line, he said.
"These kids are hanging around Vine St and picking off (robbing and beating) drunks all the time."
Police told the Advocate last month Black Power members were recruiting from bandanna-wearing youth gangs hanging around Whangarei's streets.
Police made no arrests in connection with the gang brawl at Hora Hora on Saturday - they did not arrive until it was all over.
Whangarei Sergeant Tai Patrick said police had arrived when the fighting had finished because they had been getting off-duty officers to help bolster their numbers and ensure safety at the scene.
Officers had been unable to get sufficient information about the fight from those who were there to make any arrests.
"By the time we showed up there weren't any forthcoming complaints.
"In that sort of environment forthcoming complaints aren't as forthcoming as you might like - because it involves the gang community," Mr Patrick said.
Despite recent highly publicised eruptions of tensions between rival gangs in Whangarei, police say the presence of such groups in Northland is nothing new.
"Whangarei is no different to any other part of urban New Zealand or even the world," acting Area Commander for Whangarei/Kaipara Police, Acting Inspector Steve Webber said.
"Unfortunately where there are rival gangs, there are differences of opinion.
"There has been a small number of gang members in the Whangarei-Kaipara area for a number of years."
Mr Webber added that Whangarei was also experiencing an increase in the number of young people wearing scarves and clothing of a particular colour to associate themselves with different groups.
"Congregations of groups can be perceived as intimidating to the general public.
"However, not all groups of individuals are necessarily affiliated to criminal activity," he said.
He said police would not tolerate violence or disorder or any other crime, regardless of affiliations.