Shane Jones: Gang warfare on Kaikohe streets - time to end the soft approach

It was not that long ago when small provincial towns like Kaikohe were the heart of the district.

Drapers, tobacconists, storekeepers of all stripes were sought out by commercial travellers, and the main street bustled with families coming to town.

Nowadays, Kaikohe is likely to see Benny and the Jets before we recover those dreamy decades. Sadly, they are guaranteed to encounter Rangi and the nephs, patched up and blasting the main street. If not roaring on Harleys, then popping off guns.

Dramatic? Definitely not. Such an event allegedly went down in full Northland view recently.

A van-load of the Killer Beez (a pity mis-spelling is not a crime) allegedly ambushed and brutally beat a Tribesmen member on the main street, within shouting distance of the local police station.

In retaliation, the victim's bros reportedly shot someone. Mayhem.

However, any further information is blah, blah; just noise.

The fact is, gang culture is spreading like an invasive weed fertilised by methamphetamine.

Gang membership in New Zealand is about 8000. It has grown dramatically with the spread of the drug trade. It has virtually doubled over the past five years.

The police record gang membership on a database called the National Gang List. However getting on to this list depends on certain criteria. It is highly likely that official gang numbers would be greater if youth/street gangs were included. That's quite sobering when one considers we only have 4700 army personnel and 9400 front line police members.

It has become too easy and costless for gangs to recruit. Penalties no longer seem to be a deterrent, wariness of the police is old-fashioned and respect for the community is for losers. Remember, our latest gang bash happened within 200m of the local police station.

Is it wake-up time for Tai Tokerau? Maybe, but unlikely if the Government continues its huggy bear approach to welfare. These nephs who won't work, subsist on the benefit, and treat life as an audition to join a gang.

Benefit income is prevalent amongst recognised gang members. Local employers put up job vacancy signs on roadsides while the prospects ramble past looking for a quick fix.

The gang phenomenon generates a range of views. University of Canterbury sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, says gangs predominantly fight each other and rarely embroil the public.

Recently, he shared that he'd had the pleasure of a gang motorbike convoy, therefore we should not indulge in moral panic. Such a self-serving view overlooks the enormous harm to women and children in this hideous social environment.

Over two-thirds of the national gang population are Māori. Tribal leaders rarely speak out against gang culture. In small communities, there is a fear of reprisal. Māori MPs are sensitive to the charge of making cheap political capital out of a multigenerational tragedy.

There is also an element in the community that holds the gangs in awe. Thundering motorbikes, flowing bling, and an unnerved public are brilliant recruitment devices. Such an attitude should be daily denounced.

The vast majority of whānau know gang culture is the opposite of well-being. It impedes the rangatahi from escaping deprivation and keeps many of them in the social fog.

Since the era of Muldoon, there have been various gang outreach programmes and more will be done. However, iwi need to take greater responsibility. Less co-governance special pleading and more leadership so gang leaders know there is no safe haven in Māori culture for their drug-riddled crime.

Given that gang 501 deportees are continually arriving from Australia, it is time to also import the interventions of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The notion of the transtasman villains and their global drug dealers treating us as a soft underbelly needs to be kicked in the guts.

Ministers can sanction Vladimir Putin but they are reluctant to bring down the crime-busting hammer, preferably at 3 o'clock in the morning.

We need a dedicated police gang force operating across the regions, targeting gang lifestyles - a daily show of force to terminally sting the Beez. We need to crack down on small infractions with major consequences. Gun-related offending should be met with severe sentences.

Officials may have struggled to engage the gangs for vaccination purposes; the IRD has
the power to hobble them for tax purposes.

Garrote the financial head and amputate the criminal limbs. Without such robustness, the Kaikohes of provincial New Zealand risk being hollowed out by a one-way transtasman ticket.

It is inevitable that lawyers will complain and point to the Bill of Rights. They need to remember rights require people to observe and respect duties. The only obligations organised crime recognises are those to themselves.

The Government has to commit to beating down gang offences, treating them as
organised crime.

No more tokenism and Māori titles such as Operation Tauwhiro, another word for social worker, but misrepresenting run-of-the-mill policing as some far-reaching anti-gang initiative.

More of the paddy wagon and less of the de-colonisation bandwagon.