With gang-related shootings almost a nightly event, it's little wonder Opposition parties are eyeing anti-gang laws in Australia to see whether something similar can be introduced here.
In some Australian jurisdictions, anti-consorting laws mean gang members gathering together can be prosecuted. In Western Australia, where facial tattoos can be considered gang insignia, they face up to five years in prison.
In Queensland, it's against the law for three or more known criminals to meet in public. Club members in the state also can't wear any insignia in public — including patches, T-shirts, or rings.
The trouble is, laws can result in the opposite of what's desired.
Western Australia enacted the Criminal Organisation Control Act in 2012 but it was soon found to be unusable because it required the police to assemble unworkable volumes of evidence to apply to the Supreme Court to declare gangs criminal organisations.
The Barnett–Harvey Liberal–National Government promised the act would disband bikie gangs in WA but seven new gangs were established and bikie gang membership doubled in seven years following enactment.
Mark Lauchs, a Queensland University of Technology associate professor and an expert in outlaw motorcycle gangs, says new state laws are now making life tougher for the gangs there.
"It provides police the means of supervision that can lead to lower crime. It makes it harder for shootings to happen. Because it's harder for them to plan," Lauchs says. "Association also means texting - in practice, it's very difficult for them to organise anything. And shootings tend to be organised when you're involved in clubs."
However, suppression may also result in displacing problems, pushing gang activity into other, less policed communities.
There is criticism of repeated police crackdowns on gangs in New South Wales. Sydney lawyer Ahmed Din told the Guardian recently, "The reality is, it's been 20 years and [gun violence] has been increasing, if anything, not decreasing. For police to keep repeating the same mistakes … it's insanity."
The difficulty with a heavy-handed approach is that is meeting gangs on their terms. Gang members and their cartels are nurtured in violent environments. Attempting to counter them with force abandons control and civility for their chaos and brutality. It can also lend the gang involved more notoriety.
Make no mistake, crime should be investigated and prosecuted. Serious crimes should be prioritised and vigorously met.
However, a major US initiative into gang problems in 2010 found a balance of prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies are important for success in any community.
Prevention programmes target youth at risk of gang involvement and help reduce the number of youth who join gangs. Intervention programmes and strategies provide sanctions and services for younger youth who are actively involved in gangs to push them away from gangs. Law enforcement suppression strategies and intensive services then target and rehabilitate the most violent gangs and older, criminally active gang members.
Political posturing on the issue of gangs can reassure the public that concerns are being heeded but can also be counterproductive in emboldening gangs and their recruitment efforts.
All parties in New Zealand should support the police in combating crime and endorse a considered approach to reducing gang violence and membership.