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SA police to crack down on street gang recruiting for bikies

SA Police is targeting a street gang it is understood is acting as a recruiter for bikies, a year after the State Government outlawed ten motorcycle clubs.

Under the controversial laws introduced in August last year, the initial ten bikie gangs were declared criminal organisations, meaning it is illegal for three or more members to meet in public, enter pubs or wear club colours.

The move to strike against the street gang is believed to be the first time the laws have been considered for use against a group that is not an established bikie club. It signals a widening of the net to try to crack down on organised crime.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said police were “currently doing some work on a street gang that we believe may meet the threshold”.

“But we are in the relatively early stages on that one,” Mr Stevens told a parliamentary committee.

“We will continue that work and, if we are satisfied that it meets the threshold, we will be putting forward a submission that they be considered for inclusion.”

The Advertiser understands the relatively unknown street gang acts as membership hunting ground for outlaw bikie gangs.

The tough laws have caused heated debate because they handed politicians, rather than the courts, the power to make a decision about which groups would be outlawed.

The former Hells Angel clubrooms in Clarence Gardens, which they abandoned.

To add to the list of ten, police must prepare a brief for the Attorney-General to assess and determine whether to take a regulation to State Parliament declaring the group.

The Government initially intended to declare 27 bikie gangs as criminal organisations but, in a deal with the Opposition to pass the laws, the list was reduced by removing interstate clubs with no known presence here.

At the time, Attorney-General John Rau said the new powers would make it easier to “crack down” on bikies.

Mr Stevens admitted the laws may not have “reduced their (bikie club) involvement in organised crime” but that it had “disrupted their capacity to exert influence over the community”.

“We were well aware going in to this regime that, if successful, it would essentially drive those overt activities underground,” he said.

“We see that there is a significant benefit in terms of public safety by achieving that, and we are also very mindful of the fact that this is not a suggestion that these people cease to become involved in serious organised crime.”

Bikies ride through Adelaide to Parliament House in 2013 to protest anti-bikie laws. Picture: Tait Schmaal

In the year since the laws came into force, there have been nine arrests including two cases before the courts relating to anti-association laws. Eight people have been charged over the two cases.

Both incidents occurred in December and involved members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

Assistant Commissioner Linda Fellows told the committee the first case was set for trial in September and the second was at pre-trial conference stage with an expectation it would progress.

“SAPOL considers the legislation as being extremely successful in restricting groups of OMCG (outlaw motorcycle gang) members from congregating,” Ms Fellows told The Advertiser.

“There is a noticeable absence of OMCG members in public which contributes to public safety. “Also an absence of organised tours — ‘runs’ — which has had positive public safety outcomes as well as freeing up police resources.”

In addition, one person has been charged with wearing paraphernalia — gang colours — in a licensed premises.

No one has been charged over consorting laws but 131 people had been warned, including people who were not members of the declared gangs but considered to likely have connections.

The laws also banned club entry to 10 properties, including clubrooms, which Ms Fellows said had all now been vacated.

In August last year, there were 305 OMCG members in SA. Police now believe numbers have dropped to about 274.

A Queensland taskforce into that Government’s organised crime legislation recommended establishing an independent statistical research body to collect and publish regular analysis of Queensland crime data, particularly relevant to organised crime in the state.

Opposition MLC Andrew McLachlan, a member of State Parliament’s Crime and Public Integrity Committee, said SA should establish a similar body to work out using statistics which laws worked and which did not.

“This will help to formulate appropriate policy responses, not kneejerk draconian measures,” he said.

Mr McLachlan, who crossed the floor to vote against the laws, said given the “extraordinary powers” given to police the public should expect “extraordinary results”.

“Otherwise the price for giving up our civil liberties was too high,” he said.