Gang members are using fear and intimidation to keep victims of crime silent in South Taranaki, police say.
Senior Sergeant Mike Hannah said although police were aware of incidents, a lack of complaints from victims meant their hands were tied in terms of taking any action.
"We don't really know how big a problem it is," he said.
He said although he doubted intimidation was an everyday occurrence, it was possibly used in conjunction with a "taxing" system often used by gangs and drug dealers to ensure they got a cut of any illegal activity or to enforce repayment of debt.
He said the victims involved were often vulnerable or were compromised themselves, which made it hard for them to come forward.
"Some are involved in illegal activity and then it snowballs," he said.
Hannah said many of the dealings gang members had with associates often happened behind closed doors.
"It's not a crime that you notice on the street," he said.
Hannah, who has a 30-year career with the police, said the tactics used by gang members were designed to keep their activities under the radar as much as possible.
"They rely on fear and intimidation or the victim's complicity in the crime to shut people up," he said.
He said this type of offending was hard to prove without a complaint due to the lack of forensic evidence or witnesses to talk to about it.
Although he knew people who found themselves tangled up with a gang might be reluctant to come forward, Hannah encouraged them to do so.
"Police can only do something about it if they know about it," he said.
He also warned people to be wary of who they associated with.
"If you lie down with a dog, you are going to catch fleas," he said.
In Hawera and around South Taranaki, Black Power is the most prominent gang, with its local headquarters on A'Court St.
Hannah said although the gang's presence in the town had diminished lately, this appeared to be a nation-wide trend.
"That's across every gang, they seem to have a much lower profile than they used to," he said.
The Taranaki Daily News is aware of three gang members who are currently before the Hawera District Court on various charges.
A 37-year-old Hawera man faces charge of assault with intent to rob, intentional damage and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
In another unrelated case, a 22-year-old man and a 48-year-old man, both of Hawera, are jointly charged with robbery.
The men have pleaded not guilty to the offending and all have elected trial by jury.
- Taranaki Daily News