Growing youth gang violence in Whangārei's city centre has forced civilian CitySafe staff into wearing stab-proof vests full-time.

Knives, screwdrivers and a BB gun are weapons carried in increasingly violent anti-social behaviour that includes assault in the CBD.

"I'm disappointed the situation has worsened to this degree,' said Whangārei District councillor Gavin Benney, a former New Zealand Police constable of about 30 years.

Whangārei District councillors were recently told by council staff that the amount of problem anti-social behaviour in the central city had decreased during the last five years but its seriousness had increased.

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Sandra Boardman, Whangārei District Council general manager community, said the CitySafe community officers were now "regrettably" wearing the vests during the day. This started two weeks ago following a trial that began on June 19.

Staff have been wearing the vests at night for several years – working in Whangārei's central business area and town basin.

The vests can be used to carry body cams and radios that are also in use.
Boardman said worsening youth gang behaviour in the city centre coincided with people gradually returning to the area as Covid-19 restrictions eased.

There was more youth gang conflict, resulting in fighting between different groups, she said.

Knives and screwdrivers were increasingly common. A youth had also pointed a BB gun at motorists.

"There were cases of groups ganging up on unsuspecting youths in the CBD who were then assaulted and robbed of their shoes and clothing," Boardman said.

Chris Cahill, New Zealand Police Association president, said the fact Whangārei's civilian CitySafe staff were wearing stab-proof vests was not an indication the degree of anti-social violence had reached the point where police on the beat walking the street should instead be doing the work.

Cahill said staff were linked to local police and could call on them for support, including to arrest offenders, he said.

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Staff have special warranted enforcement powers but these do not extend to making arrests.

Whangārei CitySafe members patrol Cameron St Mall as part of their daily duties. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Whangārei CitySafe members patrol Cameron St Mall as part of their daily duties. Photo / Michael Cunningham

The CitySafe website says the group is a community safety collaboration between the district council, New Zealand Police, Northland Regional Council and Chambers of Commerce Northland.

Cahill conceded that a decade ago there would typically have been more police on the beat walking through the city centre.

Northland had recently received extra new police staff but people would always want more, he said.

Cahill said police had to deal with growing family harm and mental health issues in the wider community.

"They can't be in two places at once," Cahill said.

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CitySafe allowed police to link through to community safety work, extending their reach while not having to be constantly physically present.

"They are the eyes and the ears of the police," Cahill said.

Nine community officers are on the beat seven days a week in various combinations around Whangārei from about 8am till at least 7pm during the week and 4pm on weekends. Night staff work till about 3.30am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Whangārei's CitySafe is notable for being one of New Zealand's few formalised central city council security groups with paid staff - rather than volunteers - who walk the beat.