The Gore District Council mayoral office was reluctant to ban gang patches in part because it wanted to protect its burgeoning relationship with a Mongrel Mob leader.
That was revealed in a trove of emails obtained under the Official Information Act, showing senior police officers, along with staff from the Gore district and Invercargill city councils, discussing gangs in Southland.
Acting Inspector Peter Graham, of Invercargill, emailed the Southland Chamber of Commerce and the Invercargill City Council in November last year, to say he was trying to organise signs for inner city retailers asking gang members to remove their patches.
"As you are probably aware there is a push by organised gangs especially the Mongrel Mob into Southland and this has increased the number of gang patches being worn around our streets."
Police had received calls from retailers about patched members intimidating customers and a sign had been drafted asking them to remove their patches, and advising police would support the retailer in this, Insp Graham wrote, before asking if the chamber and the council was interested.
That email was forwarded to Gore District Council mayoral office social capacity and health co-ordinator Bernadette Hunt, who was less than enthusiastic in her reply.
"I will need to canvas the working group on this but my initial reaction is it would be counterproductive to the new and positive communication that has been established with the Mongrel Mob leader.
"I would like to hope that if this becomes an issue locally we might ... achieve a positive result through conversation with him, rather than an actual ban."
That was the Mongrel Mob's Southland leader, whom she had earlier spoken to about employment issues.
A subsequent email to Senior Sergeant Cynthia Fairley, of Gore, showed Hunt was not a fan of a draft of the sign.
"In confidence ... I don't know if you want to get involved, but I think the wording of this sign will really get their backs up ... I think it could be more conciliatory," she wrote.
An earlier email in August last year, from Hunt to Snr Sgt Fairley, shows she consulted University of Canterbury senior lecturer Jarrod Gilbert, a leading gang researcher.
Dr Gilbert had said while there was no question police had to deal with instances of crimes, the worst outcomes had historically resulted from a crackdown in an attempt to suppress the gangs or drive them out, because it often meant they were unable to gain legitimate employment and increased their feeling of opposition to the rest of the community.
He had endorsed an approach focused on the issues, not the gangs.
In September last year, Hunt and Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks met Mongrel Mob representatives before a council meeting where a report was tabled on the growing gang presence across Southland.
A Gore District Council spokeswoman said councillors decided at the meeting to join Safe in the South, Southland's Safe Communities programme, aimed at "tackling issues threatening its community's resilience".
Asked for an update on the Gore District Council's work on the gang issue last week, a spokeswoman said that there was "nothing to update at this stage" but confirmed no patch ban had been implemented.