28 May 2019

Hawke's Bay mayors' gang patch ban rejected by Police Minister

6:19 pm on 28 May 2019

Banning gang patches in public places will not curb a rise in gang activity and violence in Hawke's Bay, the Police Minister says.

Mongrel mob member puts on patch for the first time.

A Mongrel mob member puts on the patch for the first time. (file photo) Photo: Supplied/ Jarrod Gilbert

The mayors of Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, Central Hawke's Bay and the chairperson of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council have called for the extended ban following a "proliferation" in gang membership, violence and crime over the past 12 months, fuelled by the methamphetamine trade.

Gang-related incidents in recent weeks, including a controversial Mongrel Mob patching ceremony at Te Mata Peak and a man being thrown through a Hastings Library window have added fuel to fire.

The mayors are calling for the patch ban to be extended to all public spaces. At their request, Police Minister Stuart Nash agreed to meet with them said a patch ban was a "slightly simplistic response" to a complicated issue.

Police Minister Stuart Nash

Police Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"Police take this issue seriously. I take this issue seriously. We do need to do more to get on top of the gang problem," he said.

"That is why out of the 1800 new police officers promised by the coalition government, 700 officers have been earmarked into fighting organised crime."

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst Photo: Hastings District Council

Mr Nash, who is also the MP for Napier, said a new police unit focusing on gangs had recently been set up in Hawke's Bay, working out of Hastings.

Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said local leaders could not deal with the problem alone.

"This proliferation of violence ... our communities have told us they have had enough," she said.

"This issue is bigger than local government. We are pretty powerless to manage this so we are seeking support from Minister Nash and the government to help us."

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said the Mongrel Mob Barbarians gang was taking advantage of a policing shortage in his town, and P and gang violence was now everywhere.

While more police were desperately needed he also wanted to see a ban on gang patches.

"I've told the gang leaders I don't want to see gang patches down our main street. It's not a good look and it's intimidation. People don't like it," he said.

Wairoa mayor Craig Little by the Waihi Dam

Wairoa mayor Craig Little. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

A lifetime member of Black Power and community advocate Denis O'Reilly said the rise in gang violence in Hawke's Bay was the worst he had seen since the 1980s and was "very concerning". But he agreed a patch ban would not stop the violence.

"The force majeure is methamphetamine," he said. "The people who organise the importation and distribution of methamphetamine don't wear patches."

The only way to reduce gang violence was to reduce demand for methamphetamine and provide meaningful jobs for young people so they did not want to - or have to - join a gang, Mr O'Reilly said.