The Mongrel Mob, arguably New Zealand's most notorious street gang, have long been synonymous with guns, drugs and violence but the predominantly Waikato-based Mongrel Mob Kingdom say they're looking to change all that. Katie Harris reports
The largest Mongrel Mob chapter in the world, Waikato-based Mongrel Mob Kingdom, is establishing an all-female chapter.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, Paula Ormsby, who will lead the group, said the chapter would be running by the end of 2020. It would be named the Mongrel Mob Wāhine Toa and would be a part of the Mongrel Mob Kingdom.
University of Canterbury director of criminal justice and gangs expert Dr Jarrod Gilbert said the move showed how dramatically women's roles within the Mongrel Mob were changing.
"In the past, women in gangs were used for domestic and sexual purposes only. They were always seen as secondary to the gang and within that culture they were treated abysmally," Gilbert said.
The Mongrel Mob, which had banned women from membership before now, had in many ways been the "worst of the worst" in terms of its treatment of women, and the public would likely need to see results before they changed their minds about the gang, he said.
Ormsby acknowledged past treatment of women who associated with gangs was "atrocious".
Some women had been patched in the past, but there were only two ways of achieving that, either by fighting or being "blocked" (a euphemism for being "raped by the members").
That was the first thing current Mongrel Mob Kingdom president Sonny Fatu changed when he became a leader, Ormsby said.
National manager of organised crime, detective superintendent Greg Williams, said police were aware of a gang presence in Waikato including a women's support group.
"In our view the Waikato Mongrel Mob remains a criminal organisation and the only thing that has changed in recent years is their attempt to improve their image in a variety of ways, including using social media," Williams said.
He said each week 800g of methamphetamine was detected in Hamilton City which equates to $400,000 going toward organised crime.
"In saying that, we welcome any examples of positive messaging and genuine movement by gangs away from criminality, particularly changes to ensure their young people do not fall into the same spiral of violence, drug use and offending."
Fatu believed the police would not notice any positive change within the Kingdom if they didn't change their perception.
"People don't find what they don't look for," Fatu said.
Ormsby said the launch of a female chapter was part of a wider move to distance the organisation from other Mongrel Mob chapters, which the Kingdom no longer "sits at the table" with.
"We want to get the message across that enough is enough around methamphetamine and other types of things that the gangs are still doing that we don't agree with," she said.
Ormsby has taught in early childhood, primary, Māori and tertiary education, and became involved with the Kingdom through an initiative to increase participation in early childhood education.
She said over the past five years she had implemented a range of initiatives, from facilitating free early childhood education to creating a women's support group called Mana Wāhine. She also helped the Kingdom create a correspondence study group for youth studying NCEA.
In 2017, the Kingdom also helped to organise the Hearty Hauora health care event with the Waikato District Health Board, and Ormsby said the Kingdom was in the process of organising a second event.
Mongrel Mob Kingdom members spoke last week to criminal justice students at the University of Canterbury, where they talked about fighting the stigma of being patched, protecting mosques in the aftermath of the March 15 terror attack, and the changing views on homosexuality in the gang.
Gilbert said the lecture was important for students as many would be dealing with gangs when they moved into jobs in the justice sector.
Senior member Mark Griffiths said then, that in spite of negative press, the gang was reaching for change.
"We know the Mongrel Mob has a past, and we know there's nothing that was done to the community that the Mongrel Mob hasn't done. However, there has to come a time when you have to change."