Gang-patch ban may reach Timaru

BY JEFF TOLLAN AND NZPA
Last updated 05:00 08/05/2009

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Wanganui is set to ban gang patches from its streets and Timaru may do the same.

Timaru Mayor Janie Annear said she was going to talk to police and the safer communities council about the possibility of following in Wanganui's footsteps; drafting a bylaw to ban patches in public places.

However, Wanganui MP Chester Borrows said last night that he had been advised by Parliament's Clerk's Office that the bill allowing the town to pass bylaws banning gang insignia in designated places was not applicable elsewhere.

Other councils would have to promulgate their own law and bring it to Parliament.

Mr Borrows said he believed it was open to debate whether other councils could implement their own bans without parliamentary approval because the Wanganui law could give police in other districts confidence to enforce bylaws in their areas.

"The jury's out on it a little bit," Mr Borrows said.

"It could be a decision which is made between councils and police national headquarters as to whether or not they're able to enforce that, but if they're going to have a power of arrest and hold people in custody as a result of it, they might have to have central government sanction."

Parliament passed legislation on Wednesday evening giving local authorities the power to ban gang patches in public places including the central business district, parks and reserves. Fines of up to $2000 could be imposed for breaches. The bill was introduced last year by local National MP Chester Borrows on behalf of the Wanganui District Council.

Several businesses in Timaru, including all bars, already ban people from entering if they are wearing gang regalia.

Patches were banned on Caroline Bay during the carnival, a move only made possible by the council leasing the land to the Caroline Bay Association while the carnival was on, Mrs Annear said.

She would need the community's support if a bylaw was to go to the Timaru District Council and she hoped people would throw their weight behind the move.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor predicted many other towns, particularly provincial centres, would follow Wanganui's lead a view backed by Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws.

"I've talked to mayors throughout the country who have been waiting for Wanganui's lead. The flow-on effects will be huge," Mr Laws said. "New Zealand is saying that gangs are an alien and criminal menace in our midst, that they are homegrown terrorists and that our society has had enough."

Mrs Annear said the bylaw was an important step to help councils fight gangs.

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"Nobody wants gangs in their community. The decision is another tool in the toolbox in the fight against gangs.

"I do not believe anybody should be able to come to town and intimidate people in their own community," she said.

But Willie McGregor, a former president of the Palmerston North chapter of Mongrel Mob and now living in Wanganui, questioned the use of the move against gang patches.

"You don't see them flaunting or strutting their stuff up the main street of town."

He believed Wanganui gangs would see the banning for what it was; a political game and people reacting to the vocal minority.

"Michael Laws is just being Michael Laws, he has always been a sound machine," Mr McGregor said.

"Has he given them an alternative? Has Michael Laws come up with a solution to this except: 'Let's get rid of the gang patches'?

"I think if he had his way he'd say: 'Let's put them all up against the wall and shoot them'."

Although gangs were not what society wanted, many members did not have an alternative, Mr McGregor said.

Addiction to alcohol or drugs meant they could not leave and many had grown up in gangs.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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