1 Sep 2009

First arrest in Wanganui under gang patch ban

6:49 pm on 1 September 2009

Police in Wanganui have made their first arrest under a contentious bylaw banning gang patches in the central city.

About 30 people, some wearing modified patches, gathered in Majestic Square at midday to protest against the bylaw, which took effect on Tuesday.

A member of a motorcycle gang was later stopped for speeding and arrested for wearing a patch. He did not take part in the central city protest.

Mr Hudson says the 21-year-old man's patch has been confiscated and will be held as an exhibit for his court hearing next Tuesday. If he is convicted, the patch will be destroyed.

The bylaw prohibiting gang insignia in some parts of the city was passed unanimously at a Wanganui District Council meeting on Monday night, although three councillors left before the vote.

People wearing gang patches in certain parts of the city face arrest or a $2,000 fine.

Wanganui acting area commander Inspector Greg Hudson says though no gang insignia was worn during Tuesday's protest, some people were wearing T-shirts which had variations on traditional patch symbols.

Mr Hudson says if modifying insignia becomes a trend, there are provisions to extend the bylaw's powers.

Bylaw won't deter young, says gang leader

Black Power member Denis O'Reilly believes the bylaw will not stop young people from being attracted to gangs.

Mr O'Reilly, the community advocate behind the protest, told Checkpoint the behaviour of people - not the colours they wear - is what's important.

He says he fears making patches a rebel thing will only make them more attractive.

Mayor signals tough approach

Wanganui mayor Michael Laws he expects the new bylaw will lead to gang members moving away from the area.

"Wanganui is going to become a very, very uncomfortable place if you are a gang member or a gang associate from now on, and we're delighted it's going to be uncomfortable for them," he says.

Inspector Hudson says each case will be policed with a common sense approach, though any defiance will be dealt with.

He says wearing gang insignia in restricted areas is now no different to any other offence, so public reports of any offending will be of help to officers.

The council must now have signposts put up in public areas where the bylaw will apply.

The Prohibition of Gang Insignia Bill, passed earlier this year, allowed the council to go ahead with the move.