Hundreds of gang members descended onto a central Auckland church for a funeral on Friday, forcing the closure of roads and infuriating politicians.
Inspector Jacqui Whittaker said on Friday that police were monitoring the large procession, which was to farewell Head Hunter Taranaki 'Ardie' Fuimaono who died in Auckland Hospital last weekend. The gangsters are expected to cross the city in the afternoon.
The massive gathering forced authorities to cordon off part of the central suburb of Grey Lynn and divert buses from the area "as a precaution to ensure the safety of members of the public in the area". However, one major road blocked off is now open again.
A service took place for Fuimaono on Thursday night in Auckland's Grey Lynn. Video footage from outside St Joseph's Catholic Church shows a large number of Head Hunters revving their motorcycles.
Newshub saw hundreds of riders arrive at the church on Friday morning ahead of the hearse. Prior to the service, members of the Head Hunters gang were standing outside the church, while King Cobras watched from the other side of the road. Fuimaono used to be a member of the King Cobras gang.
Members of other gangs, like the Killer Beez, Mongrel Mob and Rebels, also drove past on their motorcycles.
The service wrapped up around midday. The gangsters and Fuimaono's family are now understood to be heading to a burial in Māngere.
One person who tried to park near the church on Friday morning claimed there were "1000, atleast, members of whatever gang it is... just mingling". He told MagicTalk there were up to 150 motorcycles parked "across the footpath".
"I thought, if I parked my bike there I would have a ticket in a New York second."
Whittaker said at midday on Friday that cordons were in place on Great North Rd between Williamson Ave and Coleridge St as well as on Crummer Rd and Coleridge St.
"Police want to reassure the community that these cordons are a precaution to ensure the safety of all motorists travelling around the area."
She said a "large number" of riders are expected to travel across Auckland on Friday afternoon.
"Police are continuing to monitor the situation to ensure the procession is carried out in a safe manner for all road users. Police will ensure that any unsafe or dangerous behaviour occurring during the event will be followed up by Police.
"Any concerning behaviour can be reported to Police by phoning 105."
Three police choppers have been circling the central city, including near the Head Hunters gang headquarters in Ellerslie.
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ACT's Justice spokesperson, Nicole McKee, wants to know why police are shutting down streets and stopping Kiwis going about their lives "instead of moving an intimidating gang procession along".
"It says so much about the soft on crime Labour Government that gang members are taking over central Auckland - facilitated by the Police.
"The number of gang members on the National Gang List has exploded since Labour took office, with 2,663 more people on the list since December 2017. They’re recruiting faster than the Police. No other New Zealanders would have the Police roll out the red carpet for a funeral procession.
"It's time we stop pandering these intimidating gang members, arrest them when they break the law and tell them to get out of the way of law-abiding Kiwis going about their business."
Meanwhile, National's Police spokesperson, Simeon Brown, says shutting down roads "emboldens the gangs".
"By shutting down roads in Auckland for gangs - it sends all the wrong messages - emboldens the gangs - and poses the question whether gangs have more power than Police under this Government?"
Police weren't aware on Friday morning of the specific details of the procession, but told Newshub events related to the funeral are planned across the city throughout the day, including in Pt Chevalier, Grey Lynn and in south Auckland.
Whittaker said on Thursday that incidents at previous gang processions have put the public at risk.
"We are aware of previous incidents involving gang processions where dangerous driving behaviour has been exhibited by some of the riders, which has at times put those involved and the wider community at risk," she said.
Chris Cahill, the President of the Police Association, told MagicTalk on Friday that officers would love to be able to stop all of the motorcycles to check their warrants and any driving offences, but that's difficult on a busy Auckland road.
"It is sort of a mix of what is actually the offending happening and what can be followed up later. Don't make any mistake, these people will be getting filmed, the Eagle helicopter will be in the air and if there is ridiculous behaviour [and] there has to be action taken immediately, it will. But follow-up action will occur."
He said it's difficult to estimate how many people will turn up. It used to be that gangs would consult with officers.
"It's harder these days. There's a lot more gang members. A lot of younger gang members that don't want to engage with police. Then, of course, you have the whole problem that once they get together the plan goes out the window when they want to show the bravado off."
Brown on Thursday said gang processions are becoming a "recurring issue".
"It is clear that there is a recurrent problem here where gangs feel entitled to endanger and inconvenience others," he said. "While everyone is entitled to grieve the loss of loved ones, no one has the right to do so in a way that breaks the law and puts public safety at risk."
He wants the Government to fulfil its promise of 700 dedicated police focused on organised crime as this would give the force "the capability to get tough on gangs".
"Police officers want to do their jobs," he said. "They don’t want to sit in their cars while laws are broken by patched gang members in front of them."
"National understands that gangs can smell weakness and we know being tough on gangs is vital. Unfortunately, this Government sees gang members as vulnerable and standing up to them as unkind."
In December, police arrested eight people and impounded seven vehicles in relation to serious driving offences at a gang funeral on Auckland's North Shore last November. That procession involved more than 100 motorcycles and 150 vehicles.
There were complaints that vehicles were being driven on the wrong side of the road, intersections blocked, passengers sitting outside vehicle windows, dangerous overtaking, motorcyclists not wearing helmets and driving too close to pedestrians.
Brown received death threats earlier this year after criticising a gang funeral procession in Hawke's Bay. Several vehicles were seized following that tangi.
Fuimaono, 43, died in the weekend after being found unresponsive in police custody.
He was treated at Auckland Hospital on Saturday and then discharged, but was arrested upon release and taken to the Auckland Custody Unit. After midnight, he was found unresponsive and taken to hospital, where he died.
NZ Herald reports he was due to stand trial on drug charges.