Mongrel Mob and Black Power members have an intergenerational “ingrained hatred” of each other that might only be broken if New Zealand deals with them differently, with one suggestion being rewarding them for good behaviour.
Rehabilitation expert Billy Macfarlane Snr was commenting as police used special search powers to swoop on gang members in Ōpōtiki this week following simmering rivalry and firearms incidents that have flared.
Police in Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne have made arrests and seized items including drugs, weapons and ammunition, and $27,000 in cash after they searched two homes and seven vehicles believed to be linked to gangs.
The powers were granted under the Criminal Activity Intervention Legislation Act (CAIL) 2023 to quell ongoing gang tension from Monday this week. It came after a woman was shot in the arm while sitting in a car in Ōpōtiki on Saturday.
Macfarlane, the Rotorua-based Puwhakamua rehabilitation programme founder, said Ōpōtiki was considered a Mongrel Mob town, yet it had Whakatāne right on its boundary, which is considered Black Power territory. There were times the gangs would “butt heads” given their close proximity.
“It’s bred into them. It’s the red and blue thing. If your father was killed by a Mongrel Mob then you will always hate the Mob. If your sister was raped by a Black Power you will always hate the Black Power. It’s an ingrained hatred.”
He said more issues rise as the engrained hatred simmered in young people, who were “risk takers”. Couple that with firearms and it was a recipe for disaster, Macfarlane said.
Macfarlane said he “hated gangs” and while he doubted society could ever outlaw them, banning the physical presence of patches was a great start. He said gang numbers were growing – and not just members but also supporters.
The only way to make the gang issue go away was to safely rehabilitate them from that life and find out why there was such hatred and unresolved trauma.
“What we’re doing with gangs now isn’t working.”
He suggested one idea could be rewarding them for staying out of prison, instead of paying to be in them.
He said while the public might think it was ridiculous, gangs were currently costing the country huge amounts of money.
Such a scheme would need to be carefully managed by leaders with regular assessments and accountability, he said.
Macfarlane suggested a “gang summit” similar to the National Justice Summit that was held in 2018 was another way to get ideas flowing. He said politicians, leaders, police, courts, corrections staff and gang leaders could come up with ways to exit members from gangs.
National’s police spokesman Mark Mitchell told the Rotorua Daily Post he was pleased to see the action being taken in Ōpōtiki by police.
“Gangs have a massive negative influence in Ōpōtiki and nationally and we have made it quite clear that we will give any gang members help to leave gangs whether it’s with additional training or employment … We want to focus on making life in a gang difficult and we want gang members to have the opportunity to rejoin society in a positive way.”
Eastern Bay of Plenty area commander Inspector Nicky Cooney told the Rotorua Daily Post in a statement staff had been brought in from across the Bay of Plenty to help respond to incidents, prevent more incidents and investigate what’s happened.
“The public can expect to see an increased presence in town.”
On Tuesday last week, police issued a statement revealing they were dealing with several firearms-related incidents involving gangs in the town that started on Sunday, October 15.
On that day a car was allegedly shot at and stolen after an armed man had visited the address earlier that night and made threatening comments to residents.
A 29-year-old man was arrested after shots were fired at another house the following morning and he appeared in the Whakatāne District Court last week facing firearms charges.
Two different homes were the targets of more gunfire on Tuesday, October 17. Police said at the time the incidents all involved “gang members targeting each other”
Then on Saturday, the 20-year-old woman was shot in the arm and was taken to hospital in a serious condition. A Whakatāne Hospital spokeswoman said she was discharged on Monday. .
Tensions erupted in June when Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Taiatini was killed in Ōpōtiki.
The 45-year-old’s death sparked tension and gang retaliation fears that caused schools to close and stopped public transport.
Meanwhile, Cooney said police searches this week resulted in a car being seized in Pāpāmoa on Monday and two men being arrested yesterday, one believed to be a gang member.
A 22-year-old man was due to appear in the Ōpōtiki District Court on charges of possession of class A drugs, possession of class C drugs and unlawful possession of ammunition. A 36-year-old was to appear in the same court on charges of possession of offensive weapons. Both will appear in court on Thursday.
“We are sending a clear message to all gangs and the wider public that police do not tolerate unlawful behaviour and will work hard to hold people to account.”
People can report any incidents in which people’s safety or that of others is at risk by calling 111 immediately. If it has already happened, police say to call 105. The anonymous Crime Stoppers tipline is 0800 555 111.