Gangs' threat 'distorted'
Police "vigilance" towards New Zealand gangs and Nelson's motorcycle poker run last weekend has been challenged by a Canterbury University researcher.
New Zealand gang expert and Canterbury University sociologist Jarrod Gilbert told the Nelson Mail he questioned whether the police vigilance at the poker run, associated with the Red Devils and Hell's Angels gangs, was deserved after his research on New Zealand gangs for the past eight years.
It raised questions about whether organised gang crime even existed in New Zealand, he said.
Mr Gilbert declined to release a summary of his nationwide research, which he finished this month and will be released in a book later this year.
"You have to question whether or not it's a wise use of police resources and money ... we get a very distorted police picture of gangs," Mr Gilbert said.
Detective Inspector Geoff Jago, Tasman district manager of criminal investigations, disagreed, defending police vigilance on gangs in the area and at associated events such as the poker run.
A dozen gang members from the Red Devils were facing charges after a 2010 police raid at the gang's Nelson headquarters, on Natalie St. In total 35 people had been charged after methamphetamine, cannabis, firearms and motorcycles were found.
Some of those charged were due to appear in court this Monday, Mr Jago said.
However, Mr Gilbert said his research showed police painted a distorted picture of gangs to the public.
The case against the Red Devils would be a good test as to whether the vigilance police attention on gangs in Nelson was deserved.
"If all of those charges stick then likely the vigilance has been warranted. But, if none of those charges stick then perhaps there has to be questions asked of police."
Mr Gilbert said he had spent the past eight years researching and spending time with the country's gangs, including time in Nelson.
Mr Gilbert said he found the police picture of New Zealand gangs was largely incorrect. Any crimes committed were led by individuals rather than organised gang crime, he said.
His conclusions were based on evidence, he said, such as the lack of police arrests or gang wealth from crime, rather than any fear of gang repercussion.
"I'm not concerned by the prospect of upsetting gangs, nor am I fazed about the prospect of upsetting police or politicians. What I am concerned about is the truth."
He attended last year's poker run and questioned the police vigilance last weekend, when there had been no criminal activity at past events.
Barrister Steven Rollo, of Christchurch who has represented Hell's Angels members, was also at the event and questioned the heavy police presence for a charity motorbike event.
Mr Rollo declined to comment about how much money would be donated to charity.
Nelson's MediMax was given the money last year and owner Maxwell Clark said he understood the arrangement continued, but as of this week he had yet to receive any money.
Senior sergeant Grant Andrews said 20 tickets were issued for driving offences to bikers at the poker run last weekend.
Last year police issued a total of $14,000 tickets mainly for driving offences.
At least three licensed premises had also closed their doors to bikers on the run and introduced a ban against patched gang members.
"It's a clear message from the public that they don't want gangs in Nelson," Mr Andrews said.