Social worker says gang members laughing at Government's patch crackdown

An Ōpōtiki social worker has slammed new laws to crack down on gangs as a waste of time and money.

Gang patches will be banned in public, police will be given special powers to break up gang gatherings and courts will be able to stop gang members associating with each other.

The legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament in the next few days.

But Ōpōtiki Māori Wardens chairperson Te Owai Gemmell said the legislation was a joke and gang members would continue to wear their patches.

"The guys are probably just laughing and saying go hard, you can have it if you want to wear it, put it on your head. These are some of the comments that are being made, they don't care, they're just laughing about it.

"The government, they just need to wake up to themselves," Gemmell said.

At a media stand-up on Sunday morning, Police Minister Mark Mitchell said the new legislation would send a message that gang intimidation would no longer be tolerated.

He recalled the tangi for Mongrel Mob Barbarians leader Steven Taiatini in Ōpōtiki last year in June.

He said the town was "under siege for days with schools closed and the Mongrel Mob running the place."

Gemmell fears the new laws will unfairly target Māori and will push many to become criminalised.

She said what was needed instead was a te ao Māori approach.

"Work with the iwi, work with the people, we started that. I remember Judge Bidois going back sometime now where to get away from the court system, to get them to the marae. He did some great work there, we supported what he was doing," Gemmell said.

Gemmell said it would put huge pressure on the tiny group of officers working in her community.

"Government is wasting time, energy and money and calling on the police," Gemmell said.

"We don't even see any police around here, we hardly see them around because they're not around. We've got a very small number of police officers but they have to come from Whakatāne. Dumping more work on to them becomes real stressful."

'We will simply roll more staff in to support the locals' - Coster

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the new laws would be another tool in their kit to police gangs.

"It's always been the case in policing that judgement is needed about how to use the tools and legislation available to us."

Officers may decide to intervene at the time to enforce the removal of gang patches, or they may decide to execute a search warrant on those gang members later, he said.

Coster said he anticipated the law would be used a lot in the early stages but that gang members would come to recognise the consequences of not obeying it.

In small places, such as Ōpōtiki, where the number of gang members could out-number police, additional support would be brought in, he said.

"In places where gangs are flouting this provision we will simply roll more staff in to support the locals and expect to see that play out in the early stages of this."

Policing in small towns had always been challenging and staff exercising the right judgement to keep themselves safe, he said.

"We don't always need to win in the moment, but we will win in the end and we need to make sure that we provide the support required for those small towns to achieve that."

The government had been clear about its priorities in relation to gangs and police would support that, he said.

"For policing, these tools will make a difference, as will the additional resource that we expect to receive over the coming years."