Gang patch ban for Tokoroa?

Last updated 13:00 12/08/2010

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South Waikato Mayor Neil Sinclair is considering following the Whanganui way and banning gang patches from Tokoroa.

The suggestion follows weeks of scuffles between gang members outside the Tokoroa court house.

Police have cautiously backed the suggestion and are to meet with Mr Sinclair and Justice Ministry staff to try to stop the violence.

However a Black Power spokesman today questioned the impact of Whanganui's ban, adopted last September, and suggested there were other ways of stopping the violence.

Tensions between the Nomads and Black Power gangs have been rising with the two rival groups engaging in a series of brawls over the last four weeks.

On Monday another large fight involving about 15 people erupted outside the court. Police said the brawlers were linked with gangs but none were wearing patches.

Mr Sinclair said the council had a zero-tolerance toward violent behaviour.

"We are meeting with the police and court staff to see what we can put in place to avoid this behaviour happening in the future and if that means no patches in town then so be it.

"I believe we have got to get them to understand that if they want to part of our community they need to live by the same rules as everybody else. We have to get our whole community to stand up and address this issue."

Mr Sinclair said he would also be talking with court staff about whether an area could be put aside so that those set to appear in court, who were gang members, could wait in a place that was out of the public eye.

Detective Sergeant Kevan Verry said the police would welcome any tool that would help when dealing with gangs, including a ban on patches.

"We will be talking to the council about maybe banning patches and number of other initiatives that we could look at implementing, including working ... more closely including the Maori wardens and perhaps introducing CCTV footage."

Police released a report earlier this month which attributed an estimated 15 per cent drop in the number of gang members in Whanganui to the ban on gang patches and strong police anti-gang operations.

But Denis O'Reilly, the Hawke's Bay-based Black Power spokesman and life member, questioned whether gang numbers had dropped in the town as reported.

"To me, that's a made-up figure – it's very difficult to tell how many gang members there are around."

Mr O'Reilly said he "didn't see too much having changed" in Whanganui after the implementation of the patch ban: "You're still getting those (gang) behaviours."

He also saw it was "very difficult" to ban gang colours or insignia, but "patches is quite do-able".

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Hells Angels had challenged the Whanganui bylaw in the Supreme Court, Mr O'Reilly said.

"Let's see what the Supreme Court comes out with in the Whanganui case. It'll be interesting. Why put the citizens and ratepayers of Tokoroa through legal costs and all that stuff?"

Mr O'Reilly said there were "plenty of police powers" available to quell the problem outside Tokoroa's court house, and he was surprised police had not acted sooner to arrest the trouble-makers, who would likely enjoy the buzz of scrapping in public "and probably have nothing better to do".

- © Fairfax NZ News

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