Editorial: At the risk of being unwelcoming

Last updated 09:36 28/01/2014

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OPINION: They are agents of violent crime, poisonous drug pushers and - there's no gentle way to say this - they don't play nicely with others.

Outlaw gangs have a bad reputation. Deservedly so. And if that seems a generalisation, then blame the problematic 98 per cent that make the rest look bad.

When an Invercargill teenager was sentenced for dealing LSD in 2012, she was caught in a nationwide police campaign that led to seizures of drugs with a potential worth of $130 million. Police, at the time, said every gang in New Zealand was involved.

So how should we react collectively to the reported arrival of one of the more inglorious international gangs, the Bandidos, in Invercargill?

Making the standard grumbles in their direction - "you come to our place you wipe your feet" - doesn't suffice.

We need to be vigilant on our own behalf, looking after our kids and keeping well and usefully connected to the biggest gang in town: the police. It comes down to the rule of law, and how willing we are to ensure it's upheld.

When the Bandidos held a "patching over" ceremony at the weekend to set up an Invercargill chapter, it was what the rest of the commercial world would recognise as a new franchise deal.

Their reputation precedes them through the likes of the 2012 mini-series Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms on Sydney's Milperra Massacre in 1984 or, on a less widely broadcast scale, the CCTV footage that showed paroled killer Kelly Raymond Robertson, who had been identified as trying to establish the Bandidos in South Auckland, meeting Australian members at Auckland Airport just days after his probation officer had warned him not to associate with gang members. He was recalled to prison.

The Bandidos' motto: "We are the people our parents warned us about."

Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert, who has written a history of gangs in New Zealand, detects a resurgence of gang culture lately, and with it attempts from brand leaders to get footholds in new communities. He also says that though they may be criminals on an individual level, they don't tend to orientate towards organised criminal activity

You don't look convinced. Perhaps it depends how you define "organised". Police in this country have in the past acknowledged that gangs can work hard to keep peace when they see common benefit in doing so. Other times, of course, interests don't converge quite so nicely and things can get truly ugly.

Police have indicated they really have little idea just how many gang members are active around the country, though this may reflect a reluctance from the police to come out with a figure.

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Meantime, some people may find the operation of new Queensland legislation an interesting read. Under the Vicious Lawless Associate Disestablishment Act passed late last year, bikies are now banned from stepping foot in a clubhouse on pain of a minimum six months in jail, a three- month driving licence suspension and having their motorcycles crushed.

This led, we might airily observe, to the Bandidos' Brisbane chapter disbanding.

- The Southland Times

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