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Gang expert questions police op





Last updated 14:54 04/07/2011


A leading New Zealand gang expert who attended the Hells Angels' 50th birthday bash in Auckland at the weekend has questioned the worth of a massive police operation.

And Canterbury University sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert also criticised what he called a misguided focus on gangs as the major perpetrators of organised crime in New Zealand.

New Zealand authorities prevented 11 "notorious gang members" from entering the country for the motorcycle club's anniversary at the weekend and maintained a significant presence outside the gang's Mt Eden headquarters.

Immigration and Customs were also involved in an operation dating back to a police raid last October.

Gilbert questioned the resources devoted to the operation by police in a bid to stamp their mark on the gang's celebration and billed as an opportunity to prevent them extending their criminal networks.

"As far as I'm aware, there were no significant arrests made in relation to any organised criminal activity," Gilbert said.

There were an enormous amount of police resources put into the operation and it remained to be seen whether the outcomes of that were cost-effective, he said.

Dr Gilbert said there was a misperception that motorcycle clubs and gangs in New Zealand sat down and plotted criminal activity for financial gain.

"In reality it simply doesn't work like that," he said.

Instead, such operations were run by cliques within gangs who often worked with those in other gangs as well as non-gang related enterprises, he said.

"Gangs in New Zealand just aren't like that. We have a tendency to think of them like they're the mafia when in reality they're not like that at all."

Gilbert said such behaviour was too risky and was not pragmatic.

"You only need to have one bug or one undercover agent and if you're committing crime as a group then the whole gang is going to go down. And like any organisation, the gangs are primarily concerned with organisational survival."

By focussing on gangs as the major perpetrators of organised crime in New Zealand, police risked "putting the shutters" on other groups and individuals involved.

A police report on organised crime released last year made the same distinction, saying there was an "observable trend" of gangs increasingly working together but adding that they were becoming less likely to be collectively involved in an organised criminal adventure.

"Rather, individuals use their gang membership to enable and facilitate organised criminal activity," the Organised Crime in New Zealand report said.

Gangs were highly visible and an easy target, and operations carried out against them gave police and the public a focus in the war on organised crime.

"Let's face it, the gangs make great media," he said.

However, it was equally important that police clamp down on gangs when they started to play up, he said.

Gilbert declined to comment on the celebrations.

Detective Inspector Grant Wormald of the Organised Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand said the Hells Angels gathering presented a risk of serious offending and harm to the community.

The multi-agency approach meant they we were able to prevent some notorious gang members from entering New Zealand, he said.

"These people are organised criminals, many with long criminal histories relating to drugs and fraud and other serious and violent offending."

Wormald said authorities did not want gang members strengthening ties with their New Zealand counterparts during the anniversary weekend.

Gangs have been linked to a recent series of major drug busts.

Eleven members of the Head Hunters are charged with possession of more than $1 million of methamphetamine, allegedly seized from the gang's west Auckland HQ.

Earlier this year, police also arrested 28 people in raids on the Red Devils and charged them with dealing drugs and being members of an organised crime group.



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