Children as young as five are wearing gang patches in Hawke's Bay, the head of the region's gang focus unit says.
Detective Inspector Mike Foster made the observation after a public meeting at Taradale Town Hall on Sunday.
The meeting, which drew more than 250 people, was sparked by community safety concerns after a gang brawl between 30 to 40 gang members in Taradale's CBD on January 19.
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Foster said police meeting with gang leaders had become more regular since the brawl, and children wearing patches had become more noticeable by his unit at these meetings, as well as in dealings elsewhere.
"I think it is sad," Foster said.
"We should be discouraging children from entering gang life. The promoting of kids wearing patches is far from ideal.
"It's heavily entrenched in some families.
"Some families are third and fourth generation gangs, so wearing a patch is very much in their culture.
"[It's meant that] over the years there has been an increase in children wearing patches," he said.
The youngest child seen by Foster's unit wearing a patch was aged between 5 and 8, he said.
"It's not an easy fix, it's a matter of offering support to whanau through us and other agencies," Foster said.
"We want children away from the gangs, on the right path. We want them to succeed in life.
"We want them in sports, academia, in schools, and I think leaders across the board would agree."
Lifetime Black Power member Denis O'Reilly said it was "tragic" to see a young child with a patch.
"That a child, before the age of reason and adulthood, would have a patch really makes you think 'what hope does the child have for success in life'," O'Reilly said.
"These are not normal times. It's in my view perverse, I don't really understand a parent who would want that with the child," he said.
"The notion of a child wearing a patch would be so bizarre among gangs, it is highly unusual. I just cannot comprehend it."
That said, O'Reilly himself has seen children wearing patches.
"I tried to recover my jaw off the floor."
George (Hōri) Reti, chairman of Te Taiwhenua O Te Whanganui a Orotū and Te Whanganui a Orotū board representative for Ngāti Kahungunu, who was at the meeting said children wearing patches made early intervention "more urgent" than before.
"Children wearing patches is not okay, it just makes it even more urgent for early intervention with these families," Reti said.
He said the issue of patched children was a reality for some and also showed "areas of systemic failure".
"Some members are third or fourth generation, so it has been part of their whole lives - some children have their patch, some don't."
Reti said work needed to be done with police and the gangs to ensure a different future for the upcoming generation.
"Whilst we support our police to put measures into place to protect our local residents from the stupidity of individuals, we also know we need to engage and work collectively with the gang leadership of each gang and support the development of positive short term and long term strategies within the community."
To date four people have been arrested in relation to the January 19 incident.
Two more, a 39-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman were arrested at a house in Flaxmere on Sunday evening.
Two firearms were seized and the pair were charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.
A 22-year-old man was arrested earlier on Sunday and charged with unlawful assembly.
A 25-year-old man has previously appeared in court in relation to the brawl.