'Vigilantes' back on the streets

10:04, Jun 08 2009
'THEY BLEW IT': Sisters Jenny Kapene and Tania Aporo think the patrol is a good idea but violence is not the way to go.

An armed "vigilante" group ordered off the streets after a violent clash with teenagers is back on the beat despite one of its members facing firearms charges and allegations that police-style batons and Tasers are being carried.

Residents of Martinborough are deeply divided over the night patrol's tactics, launched last month after a rise in burglaries.

The group, involving 57 people, many of them businessmen, have been branded vigilantes after a shotgun was allegedly fired and three teenagers injured during an early-morning clash with two patrolmen on Thursday.

Police ordered the patrol off the streets after the violence and are now investigating allegations that two of the patrol's self-appointed members have been carrying police-style batons and Tasers.

It is understood some patrolmen have worn balaclavas and had a firearm in their car.

Despite being stood down by police, patrol members were back on their 10pm-to-dawn beat this week, although the group has barred the two men involved in last week's incident from taking any further part.

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The man who started the patrol last month after a rash of late-night break-ins targeting elderly people's homes is reluctant to talk. The patrol is due to meet police this week.

One of the axed patrolmen, a 33-year-old business owner, will appear in Masterton District Court tomorrow on firearms charges.

A second member has been questioned by police and may also face charges.

Three teenagers are also before the courts, including an 18-year-old charged with assault with intent to injure.

Although many Martinborough residents have criticised the "vigilante" tactics of some patrol members, others say the group has stamped out the rogue elements.

Jenny Kapene, whose teenage son faces charges over Thursday's incident, said she had backed the night patrol from the outset.

"It was working sweet. The burglaries stopped, but then they blew it. OK, some of these kids are real little shits and are up to mischief. But that was no reason to get heavy-handed.

"It's just two guys, though, and it is a real shame that this group should fail because these guys acted on their own.

"People got hurt and it should never have happened. We all want the town to be safe but not this way, not with violence, when most of the group only wanted calm and good to come of it."

Her sister, Tania Aporo, called for a community meeting to sort out the problem.

"We should get these kids who are on the streets at night with nothing to do and bottles in their hands to come and talk to them and work it out as a community."

One of the two patrolmen accused of taking part in last week's brawl denies "vigilante" behaviour, claiming weapons were used only in self-defence.

ARE THE NIGHT PATROL MEMBERS VGILANTES?

The Dominion Post put the question to the public as Martinborough's "self-appointed" night patrol comes under fire over alleged vigilante tactics.

Ray Donges, 47, builder: "I don't reckon we should even have them because that is what we have the police for. I see them as vigilantes, really."

Dave Patten, 60, electrician: "I think the night patrols have been good. Something is finally being done about the problems in our town."

Krystina Hunter, 35, bar manager: "They have taken community patrols a step too far ... They seem to have this mentality, 'Let's get a pitchfork and burn them at the stake in the square."'

Roger Laing, 78, retired: "Damn stupidity. While it's mostly a good crew of blokes doing it, there are also some yahoos poking their nose in. If it was done with the police, it would be a good thing, but they have gotten out of line."

The Dominion Post