The fight to own Hawke's Bay's methamphetamine market has brought about an expansion of the region's gang scene. Fourteen different gangs, and more than 1200 patched members, are now on the police's watchlist. But those numbers don't tell the full story. Christian Fuller reports.
Official police records suggest Hawke's Bay's gang population has doubled in five years.
But those very same records also paint a picture of a rapidly changing face of the region's gang scene.
It's a scene that now has 14 different players, but is also a landscape where fewer offences are recorded.
A total of 14 separate gangs were in Hawke's Bay as at October 2020, Gang Intelligence Centre records released to Hawke's Bay Today under the Official Information Act show.
Three new gangs in the past year alone have found a foothold in the region - King Cobra, Mongols MC and Tribal Huk, while Aotearoa Native and Bandidos MC no longer have a presence.
Experts say the inter-gang machinations are heavily linked to the trading and using of methamphetamine, and to effect change, a drug "liberation movement" in the region is needed.
The Gang Intelligence Centre data notes the number of patched and gang prospects in the district rose from 1074 in 2019 to 1211 in 2020 – an increase of 519 since 2016, though there are known to be significant caveats when it comes to mapping gang membership.
Black Power life member Denis O'Reilly said an "explosion" in gang membership was a concern in Hawke's Bay, not just in statistics but also on the ground.
"We need a liberation movement," he said.
"We need to liberate ourselves from international people from seducing gang members with the lure of immediate wealth – as of course it's a false reality.
"Police need to spend more time on how to mobilise younger people into productive and legitimate work, rather than focusing on whether they are a member of this or that crew. We need a labour force in Hawke's Bay, where you can earn a legitimate income."
The new gangs in Hawke's Bay have reputations that precede their arrival:
- The King Cobras, founded in Ponsonby in the 1950s, have a history of possessing firearms and have been involved in the dealing of drugs – namely meth.
The group – the oldest patched gang in New Zealand – has also been involved in several murders, including that of 15-year-old Michael Heremaia in South Auckland in 2003.
- The Mongols Motorcycle Club's main presence lies in California, but they have chapters in 10 countries, including New Zealand.
Ten members of the gang, including senior leaders, were arrested in June last year after 110 police staff executed search warrants at 10 properties in the Bay of Plenty, seizing firearms, drugs, cash and vehicles.
- Tribal Huk, a Ngāruawāhia gang, suffered a blow in 2020 when leader Jamie Pink attacked his sergeant at arms in a brazen de-patching and was jailed for more than seven years.
In 2014 Pink won Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year after Tribal Huk members made sandwiches for school children.
O'Reilly said the fear of new gangs in the region is less of a concern than the existing ones.
"It's like saying there's a guy whose brother's nephew's mate who visited is part of this gang so therefore they have a presence," he said. "There are 22 chapters of the Mongrel Mob in Hawke's Bay."
"These crews will come and go - but the local guys will win out in the end," he added.
Eastern District prevention manager Inspector Dean Clifford said police were looking to tackling the rising use of meth among gangs as a way to reduce community harm that would eventually lead to a decrease in gang numbers.
"Supporting small communities impacted by organised crime is critical – one component of this is meth addiction, but also providing alternate pathways for young men away from gang life," he said.
Clifford said drug prevention tactics also include "disrupting gangs, lessening their influence and stopping harm".
"We are focused on the prevention aspects of organised crime – that is working with local communities, iwi and government agencies to break the addiction cycle."
Despite the new gang arrivals to the region, Clifford said Eastern District Police's major focus remains reducing the influence, visibility and harm of gangs in Hawke's Bay.
"We want to send a clear message that criminal activity and gang violence won't be tolerated," he said.
"Police continues to target and dismantle these groups both by targeting and prosecuting offenders, and by using the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act to take the profits of their illicit activity away from them."
A police spokeswoman said the rising number of gang members in Hawke's Bay could be attributed to changes in recording processes and methodology and improved intelligence collection and collation capability.
Interestingly, the number of recorded offences in Eastern District Police region by a person on the National Gang List (NGL) decreased in significantly in 2020.
There were 2229 offences in 2019 but just 1884 in 2020. It's the first time in five years that number has been under 2000.
The spokeswoman said while recorded offending by gang members remains relatively static, recent changes in the gang environment has caused more overt displays of gang-related violence.
One of the most public displays of gang violence in 2020 occurred when a shot fired in a gang clash in Taradale struck the rear of a child's car seat, while the child was in it.
The shotgun pellet was fired when between 30 and 40 Mongrel Mob and Black Power jostled in the suburb's CBD on January 19, 2020.
A police spokeswoman said the rise in overt displays of violence are likely to be based on a combination of increases in competition for influence and control in the drug markets, increasing sophistication and business focus, and a broadening of recruitment methods triggering rivalry and territorial conflict.
Clifford said the criminal and anti-social behaviour of gangs had a detrimental effect on communities, and their actions, lifestyle and unlawful behaviours continues to contribute to people feeling unsafe.
He said police support local young people, with a number of police teams actively working with gangs to prevent crime.
"This work includes looking at options like alternative resolutions, referrals to support agencies and services, and prosecutions where appropriate, which provides the opportunity for support and help through alternative sentencing and rehabilitation programmes."
There were seven gangs present in the Eastern District in 2016 - this has risen to 14 in 2020.
Hawke's Bay's current gangs (as at October 2020):
- Black Power
- Head Hunters MC
- Hells Angels MC
- Highway 61 MC
- Killer Beez
- King Cobra
- Mongols MC
- Mongrel Mob
- New Zealand Nomad
- Outlaws MC
- Rebels MC
- Tribal Huk
- Tribesmen MC