“I think we need to harass and disrupt gangs every day.”
Tauranga’s MP Simon Bridges took no prisoners at a public meeting on gangs and crime during some fiery exchanges at the Tauranga Yacht & Power Boat Club last night.
“I say that because it’s like a cancer, and it’s going to keep growing unless we take a strong approach to it,” says Simon.
It was standing room only as the Leader of the National Party, flanked by Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller and National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell, took a staunch and firm stand against gangs, in front of an audience that included Mongrel Mob members and associates.
“The numbers of gang members have grown, as we see more methamphetamine in Tauranga, more cocaine, more other hard drugs, more gangs, more guns, and with those guns more violence as a result of that.
“I think that you have to be tough on crime. You have to be clear and forthright, and crack down on gangs if you want to make a difference on this issue.”
Simon called the public meeting after the city has experienced “quite a few events over the last few weeks, that for those of us who have lived in this community for many years, is quite disturbing and very different from the Tauranga that many of us know and love and expect to be”, says Todd who opened the meeting.
“Many of us, myself included, are feeling less safe, in this city that literally means ‘safe harbour’, a great place for us all to live and to work in,” says Simon. “There have been a number of deaths in our community. I’ve received messages and texts from many of you, and have had phone calls with about the gang warfare around the greater Tauranga area.
“We want to hear your feedback on the issue of gangs and crime in Tauranga and NZ. This is an emotional, strong, tough conversation we are having. I know there are people from all sections of the community here, right through to gang associates and members. That’s in a way good and it keeps things real.”
Joshua Love and Mongrel Mob Waikato public liaison Louise Hutchinson both asked Simon about meeting and talking with the gangs.
Mongrel Mob Waikato public liaison Louise Hutchinson.
“I’m not interested in window dressing,” says Simon in his reply to Joshua. “If they want a really serious conversation where they get rid of their guns, where they stop peddling meth, where they give up the violence and they stop intimidating New Zealanders, then I’ll think about doing that.”
He also shot back at Louise’s request for him to visit the Waikato Mongrel Mob headquarters. He had declined the invitation to visit last year.
“Why is it that your Mongrel Mob chapter is growing exponentially in numbers? Why is it that the methamphetamine numbers in Hamilton and the Waikato are going through the roof and continue to rise and rise? Why is it that your leader won’t give back the illegal guns he has in the hundreds? Why is it that Police intelligence makes quite clear that there’s still a whole lot of illegality and drugs and violence going on as a result of the chapter that you’re here representing today?”
Both were heckled by the audience.
National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell.
Mark Mitchell also replied to Louise, who acts as the public relations liaison for the Waikato Mongrel Mob.
“Louise I know that you’re driven by your own best of intentions. I had a lady who came out of prison, who lives in my constituency. She became a victim, and got involved in the gang scene when she was 14. She suffered horrendously inside that environment, and suffered rapes and serious assaults that were so serious that she almost died. She ended up in hospital,” says Mark.
“The first thing she asked when she came out of prison was ‘please keep the gangs away from me, please don’t let me go back to the gangs. I want to start fresh and I want to have a relationship with my 14-year-old daughter’. She pleaded with me. I did everything that I could to make sure that she was supported.
“Do you know what happened, Louise? You took her down to the Waikato, to the Mongrel Mob. You know where she is now? She’s back in jail, breaching her parole. So please don’t stand up here and start lecturing me about the Mongrel Mob. Don’t stand up here and tell us that the Mongrel Mob in Hamilton is driven by the best intentions. She is just one case. I could give you a dozen.”
Mark has had a Police career and was based in Rotorua for the first part of it, where he was also a member of the Armed Offenders Squad.
“Gangs are a scourge in our society,” says Mark. “They have been around for a long time. It’s time that we showed some focus and have some intestinal fortitude, and actually start to get stuck in to the problem.”
He recounted a recent incident about three weeks ago when he was in Taradale.
“There were 30 patched gang members on the main street of Taradale in the middle of the day, with firearms, shooting at each other. You had a child in a car seat that ended up with a shotgun pellet embedded in the car seat. We were one step away from a tragedy.
“I think it’s time that in New Zealand, we don’t have patched gang members taking over a town, or taking over a car park so that they can do a patching ceremony and the public are pushed out and excluded.”
Todd Muller also related his recent experience meeting members of the public in his constituency.
“I was doorknocking in Papamoa East a few weeks ago and pretty much at every door the issue that was put on the table was the concern that public safety didn’t seem to be as good as they were expecting or hoping,” says Todd.
“One lady summed it up the best when she said “we’ve moved from a place to come here to get away from that sort of stuff. You don’t expect this in this community”.”
Simon, who has been living in Tauranga since 2001, worked as a crown prosecutor prior to being elected as Tauranga’s MP.
“Back then I didn’t see gangs particularly much in Tauranga, even in my line of work,” says Simon. “There was a small number of gangs. Today there are many more gangs. We see them in and around our communities. We see them patched. It’s incredibly common to see them at the Mount if you’re over there in the weekend but in other parts too, on Cameron Rd and all around Tauranga.
“I think that’s intimidatory. There are 1400 more patched gang members in NZ today over the last couple of years, according to Police. And we’re seeing different gangs. That’s intimidating and I think that makes us feel less safe.”
Simon stated that there were two elements that he felt were crucial to solving the issue of gangs.
“One is the softer side and the other is the harder side,” says Simon.
“The softer stuff is what we sometimes calls social investment. That’s preventing it in the first place, that’s education, welfare, getting people into work and employment.”
He acknowledged there are community organisations that are already working effectively in the social investment space. The Graeme Dingle Foundation, represented at the meeting by regional manager Dan Allen-Gordon is once such organisation.
“Our view of it is that we want to use you. You’re better, you’re on the ground, you know what’s happening and using you to help us in a social investment type role is crucially important to this conversation and to making a real difference,” says Simon.
The other side of the coin is cracking down hard on gangs and illegal activity.
“If I’m Prime Minister I will ban gang patches in public places,” says Simon. “We’ve talked quite clearly about some of the things that we will do, around a unit that goes out and makes sure gangs are absolutely to the letter of every law, obeying them and if they’re not we legally throw the book at them.
“So both sides of the coin are essential.”
Simon was asked what his definition of a gang was.
“Gangs aren’t cuddly whanau-related motorcycle clubs that get together on Sunday and have a barbecue and chew the fat and then go away nice and everything’s fine. All the gangs I’ve seen have a patch to them as an integral part of what they do – meth, other drugs, guns, violence, misogyny.
“There are some smarter guys around them who are making lots of money as well who don’t wear patches. I would call them organised crime not gangs. And we’ve got to go after them too.”
A Welcome Bay resident expressed concern about the level of crime in the area.
“We’ve got over 250 reported criminal offences in the last 12 months. Social housing areas have got parasite drug dealers driving around in Bentleys and Harleys. Even last night we had a gun shot down the street at 10.30pm at night. It’s just an ongoing drama.”
Simon says he has a solution for those who move into social housing and then proceed to be involved in illegal activities from home.
“I’ve got a very clear solution that I think is firm and fair. And that’s ‘remind, remedy and remove’. How it works – if they’re doing a stunt like that in a house owned by the state, we’ll go in and we’ll remind them very politely about their obligations. If they then don’t fix it, and they don’t remedy it, they will be removed.
“And if you think that’s mean, understand this – right now in New Zealand, there is a waiting list of over 12,000 people who are waiting for those houses. In Tauranga, there’s hundreds of them. So tell me why someone who is deserving with little kids who follows the rules shouldn’t be in that house, when some scumbags are terrorising a neighbourhood with impunity.”
Simon also stated he will always oppose cannabis legislation.
“There is a law that the Prime Minister and her team have drafted and it doesn’t deal with critical things. It doesn’t tell us what the THC level in cannabis for example. If you don’t put the THC level in, if you set it too low, the gangs are just going to sell the high stuff. If you set it too high, the gangs will keep doing it anyway because that’s the way it goes.
“I take the view that gangs that peddle as part of their chapters, drugs, guns and violence, have no place in this country,” says Simon.
“You’ve got a leader that’s been a crown prosecutor for you for many years in this town,” says Mark. “Simon has seen the harm that gangs inflict. He’s seen the social harm that they create. He’s seen the intergenerational problems and issues that we face in this country for a long, long time.
“He’s appointed me as Justice Spokesperson. If we win the election in September I will be your Justice Minister and under the Justice Portfolio we’ve got Police, Corrections, and Courts.
“Make no mistake. We’ve got the intestinal fortitude and the focus to get stuck in and actually start making real inroads to dismantling gangs and organised crime in this country.”
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, Tauranga MP Simon Bridges and National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell.
By the numbers: Total patched and prospect gang members (October 2017- August 2019)
Auckland City 230 (18.6 per cent increase)
Bay of Plenty 1380 (30.4 per cent increase)
Canterbury 480 (16.2 per cent increase)
Central 640 (30.1 per cent increase)
Counties/Manukau 760 (21.4 per cent increase)
Eastern 1041 (30 per cent increase)
Northland 376 (-2.3 per cent decrease)
Southern 217 (61.9 per cent increase)
Tasman 124 (82.4 per cent increase)
Waikato 556 (44 per cent increase)
Waitemata 369 (22.6 per cent increase)
Wellington 556 (14.6 per cent increase)
Source: Minister of Police