Deal with gang tensions like 'measles on plane', community advocate says after Black Power, Mongrel Mob incidents

A Black Power life member and community advocate says gang tension should be dealt with locally like a "contagion", following two gang-related incidents over the weekend. 

Police are appealing for information after Mongrel Mob and Black Power gang members were involved in firearms incidents in both Ruatoria and Napier on Saturday and Sunday. The incident in Taradale, Napier involved between 30 and 40 gang members and resulted in a 25-year-old man receiving injuries to his head, face and torso from a single gunshot. 

"Tensions between the Mongrel Mob and Black Power have continued to escalate in recent months with Police investigating a number of serious incidents and outbreaks of violence in public places - many of which have been witnessed by members of the public," Detective Rob Jones said on Monday.

Denis O'Reilly, a Black Power life member who now serves as a community advocate, says there is a risk of conflating the two weekend incidents and believing a nationwide gang war is underway.  He says that isn't true. 

"The two incidents, they have nothing to do with each other, other than the fact that the various groups come from loose affiliation, but they are different chapters, there will be different causes for them, all these things have a cause, and we are better to get them sorted out at a local level rather than make it sound like there is some big war going on," he told Newshub. 

While he believes there is a problem across the country with rising gang tensions, he says typical political ideas aren't working. Instead, he says gang tension should be dealt with like a contagion on a local level.

"We are not going to sort it out by political rhetoric. We need to come together at a community level. We need to treat it as a public health issue, as a contagion," he said.

"Think about it as being like someone with measles on a plane. Who was on the plane? Who might have been exposed? Where it did all start off? Then you work at it at a very local level like that."

O'Reilly says communities need to ensure more "pro-social leaders" are involved with gangs to hold them to account. 

Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert from the University of Canterbury agrees there are rising tensions and it's a concern when incidents become public. However, he says these confrontations are still rarer than they used to be. 

"We have to keep this in perspective, that these events are relatively rare and sound policy isn't achieved through knee jerk reactionism," he told Newshub.

"There is a pretty well-rehearsed way of settling these disputes. They involve the police saturating these gangs and making sure that they can't move, making life as uncomfortable for them as possible in the immediate aftermath of these incidents."

But Gilbert says policing alone isn't the solution. He also calls for complex economic and social issues to be addressed as well as to ensure gang leaders speak to each other about de-escalation. He said gang members directly related to the weekend's incidents will be reluctant to meet straight away, but leaders in surrounding chapters may be able to start a conversation.

Police are asking anyone who may have information about the incidents in Ruatoria or Taradale to come forward. 

"We would also like to hear from anyone with CCTV or dashcam footage that may assist these investigations."

Information can be provided by calling 105 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.