Napier residents want more action to stop youth joining gangs

Anusha Bradley for RNZ

Angry and frustrated Napier residents want more action from the government to stop young people joining gangs.

They made the demand at a public meeting in Taradale yesterday, exactly a week after shots were fired during a large gang brawl in the town's centre involving 30 to 40 Black Power and Mongrel Mob members.

It was standing room only as around 300 people packed the Taradale Town Hall. Dozens more stood in the hall's kitchen and those who couldn't fit inside, spilled out onto the street.

With the aircon broken in sweltering 30 degree heat, it was hotter inside than out, and some residents used the forum to let off steam.

"I'm angry at this gang thing ... this is our patch, it isn't their patch," one local said to applause.

"Young gang members look for something. They're looking for acceptance, comradeship, they're looking for love," he said.

Detective Inspector Mike Foster, who headed the local gang focus unit, agreed.

Police were working with vulnerable families and in schools to try to prevent kids joining gangs but the scale of the problem was huge, he said.

"Yesterday alone we were dealing with a gang gathering and there were little children in patches.

"It's those ones there, and it's getting into whānau and preventing them getting into a life of crime."

There had been a 58 percent increase in gang memberships in Hawke's Bay over the last two years. A social worker at the meeting said she was in a prime position to help vulnerable families and youth but there was not funding.

"Right now we don't have the money, the staff or the resources to be able to get these families before they get to Oranga Tamariki, before they get to Corrections, before they get to mental health.

"We can actually do some really good work, but we need the money, staff and resources."

Carolyn Pugh from the Napier Family Centre agreed more funding was needed to help struggling families.

"Poverty, homelessness and sense of direction - there's none - and that's why our young people are joining gangs."

Another resident challenged the Police Minister and Napier MP Stuart Nash to take their pleas to his colleagues.

"I want you to advocate for more money ... whatever we need ... prisons, the police force, liaison officers ... go for it."

Speaking after the meeting, Stuart Nash said the government was putting more money into the police and social services, but change would take time.

"I hope people are reassured, or understand, that we are doing this. We're taking a 30 year vision of what we want this country to look like, not a three-year quick fix."

But an Onekawa resident, who did not want to be named, said she did not want to wait that long.

"I live in a street where every second house is gang-related, and everyone just turns a blind eye. I'm not that Māori and I'm not that mother and it's not how I'm raising my boys to be. I hope Stuart Nash does come to the table because we need real solutions in place, not wait."

Three more people were arrested on Sunday in relation to the Taradale fight, bringing the total to four. Police said there were several more people they were actively seeking.

A 39-year-old man and 27-year-old woman were arrested at an address in Flaxmere on Sunday afternoon. Two firearms were also located and seized. The pair have been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.

A 22-year-old man was arrested earlier on Sunday and charged with unlawful assembly.