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Five gangs represented in region

Water testing in Masterton had found methamphetamine to be by far the most common drug found – testing does not include cannabis, which is the most dominant drug in the region. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

MARCUS ANSELM

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In the past week, Wairarapa police officers have arrested two gang associates for supplying methamphetamine. They also face firearms charges and were in possession of a sizeable amount of cash.

Another two patched gang members travelling through the region were caught in possession of stolen property and methamphetamine and have been remanded in custody.

This in a week when figures released by police minister Stuart Nash through written parliamentary questions showed the total number of patched gang members in New Zealand increased by 26 per cent since October 2017, when the current government was elected. That’s almost 1400 new gang members over two years.

The war on drugs and helping people escape gang life were raised as key local issues as the National party launched its ‘gang plan’.

This week, Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott said the opposition had launched a pre-election pledge to tackle rising numbers of members.

Scott said the Coalition Government had a “soft on crime approach [which] has led to an increase in gang membership”.

“Gangs have become emboldened under this government. The focus on stopping crime before it starts just isn’t there under this Government. Gangs do nothing but peddle misery, are disrespectful, violent, and create victims.”

Wairarapa area commander Scott Miller said there was “an ongoing changing landscape with a rise of younger gang members in recent years now decreasing in numbers”.

“The threat of a new gang chapter establishing itself within Wellington district including a strong presence in the Wairarapa [is] being closely monitored and actively targeted by police,” he said.

Miller said the force’s focus was on “the harm drugs like methamphetamine have both economically and on the health of people within the community”.

He said the region has “a reasonably constant core of local gang members associated to five gangs” but also has a transient gang population with members both coming to the Wairarapa and leaving the Wairarapa for periods of time.

The region is also a transport route for gang members from the Hawkes Bay to Wellington and vice versa travelling on State Highway 2, Miller said.

Water testing in Masterton had found methamphetamine to be by far the most common drug found – testing does not include cannabis, which is the most dominant drug in the region.

“There is no doubt that gangs and associates of gangs are involved in the sale and supply of methamphetamine in the Wairarapa with the majority of meth being brought into the Wairarapa not manufactured here,” Miller said.

“So, this organised crime group is under the umbrella of patched gang members, prospects and gang associates who often work in partnership with gangs in their criminal activity. Often what is happening here is a small percentage of criminals are making large amounts of money from drug dealing as money is the driver to organised crime.

“There is also now a greater distinction between patched gang members, gang prospects working towards their patch and gang associates assisting or working for gangs.”

Carterton pastor Wayne Poutoa knows the challenges that come with leaving a gang. The former Mongrel Mob patch member is now helping at-risk youth in the area.

He said it was important that anyone who wants to leave a gang has a strong support network, and it was also important for communities and politicians to make gangs “unfashionable”.

“If you want to change the attraction to people of gang life, you’ve got to make it unfashionable.”

The way to do that is to highlight those stories of people who have made change, he said.

Poutoa said statistics tell one story, but he had spoken to gang members who want to keep their families on the straight and narrow.

“You see, the older gang members are growing up and saying they want to focus on their families. Gang chapters and that are in turmoil within themselves with respect to their kaupapa, because some members want to focus on their family as the older ones are getting wiser in some sense.

“I’ve talked to gang members who have said, “Wayne, you know, it’s too late for me, but here’s my son. Can you help him?”

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