Sign on the Cook Strait Ferry Arahura prohibiting the display of gang patches

Sign on the Cook Strait ferry Arahura prohibiting the display of gang patches.

We have within our society groups of people who prefer to live in a primitive tribal community framework. Primitive in that they have their own laws and anyone not in their tribe is either not to be trusted or an enemy. They call themselves clubs, motor cycle clubs mainly. They are commonly known as gangs. The police use more accurate terminology; criminal organisations.

Not all individuals in the gangs are as mean and thuggish as they look in a patched group. Some are surprisingly intelligent, brave and sensitive. What they lack is the personal resilience to live as responsible individuals in the wider, more diverse tribe we call a nation.

Although insular and prejudiced and staunch about loyalty, that does not rule out bending the tribal boundaries when joint money-making ventures are in the offing. Gangs in New Zealand are a growth industry. So much so we are now importing them.

The old joke about Kiwis emigrating to Australia raising the IQ of both countries is rebounding on us. Australia, the country criminals were transported to for life, is now exporting its criminals to New Zealand for life. Kiwi criminals, that is, including those who grew up in Australia and consider New Zealand a foreign country.

One of the many unpleasant consequences of Australia’s cunning legislation is the establishment of the Comancheros here. According to NZ Police this ‘club’ is involved in the manufacture and supply of illicit drugs and uses money laundering and commercial businesses to conceal the proceeds of crime.

As well as many second division gangs of our own, we also have Hell’s Angels, founded in California, which apparently has 470 chapters in 56 countries. Add the Nomads, Mongrel Mob, Black Power, etc, and we appear to have fertile conditions for the crime industry to flourish, and it is flourishing. Tony Soprano eat your heart out.

 We could learn something from Australia: how to harden up. Especially where criminal organisations are concerned. We urgently need to cast around other countries. Perhaps we could start with the Netherlands where, after a decade of trying, prosecutors have finally persuaded the courts, to ban Hells Angels, as well as some rival gangs.

The legal, social and political issues may be imagined. Cries of ‘guilt by association’ for a start. Here there would be complaints that such legislation would criminalise Maori. So, such a course would not be easy and it’s too soon to know if it has been effective in the Netherlands. But I imagine the people of the Netherlands are glad someone’s had the initiative to try.

A start has been made in New Zealand law. Gang patches are now banned in public buildings. Apparently we have 35 gangs patched with prohibited insignia. Why not simply ban gang regalia in public spaces? Are we too liberal for our own good? What else can be done to reduce the power of gangs? I understand that the best means the police have of undermining gangs is undercover cops. But, apart from the ethical challenge of turning police officers into criminals, this method of detection too damaging to the individual officers, unless you believe the end justifies the means.

Gang informants and wire taps are effective apparently but insufficient to stem the tide. It would help if media reports were more specific and consistent by referring to these unlawful groups as sophisticated criminal organisations.

We already have a shamefully high profile for the abuse and murder of children. We are following a similar pattern with the unrelenting growth of criminal organisations. And we seem to be stuck. Finding answers should not be left to the police alone. We need creative ideas from the best brains in the country to focus on this unappealing area of study.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.