New Zealanders should be far more concerned about white-collar criminals and the perpetrators of domestic violence than they are about gang members, an academic says.
Professor Greg Newbold, a Canterbury University criminologist and sociologist, spoke to RadioLive about what could be done about gang factions in New Zealand and the growing presence of international gangs like the Comancheros.
When asked by host Mark Sainsbury who Kiwis should fear the most, he had a surprising answer.
"White collar criminals, I would fear them," he said. "And I would fear people who bash their wives and their children up, they are the great blight on society.
"The gangs are nothing really by comparison.
"The harm that gangs do is nothing compared to the harm that white-collar crime does and compared to the harm that's done by domestic violence.
"Domestic violence, I'd say, would be the top - that's where most of the people who commit terrible crimes of violence against of others come from. They come from abusive, neglectful backgrounds."
Mr Newbold said people campaigning to reduce crime and make society safer should target the problem of domestic violence.
He said New Zealand was a free country and the Government could not legislate against gangs, due to the freedom of association.
"A gang isn't a criminal offence in itself, therefore there's nothing you can do to stop these things. If people want to set up gangs or join gangs, they're free to do so."
Mr Newbold said there are different categories of gangs, with the Mongrel Mob and Black Power being larger and more amorphous, and motorcycle gangs such as the Comancheros and the Hell's Angels, which are smaller and better organised.
Mr Newbold said that fear of gangs among the public is overblown.
"I don't think that gangs intimidate anyone except each other. They intimidate people who deal drugs and they intimidate people who buy drugs off them, and they intimidate people who rip them off or fall out with them.
"They can be intimidating to other criminals, but to the average person on the street - to you and me - I don't think we've got anything to fear from the gangs at all."
He said that many gang leaders nowadays are older - in their 30s and 40s - and "they've got nothing to gain out of intimidating anybody, unless they've got a business interest in it".