Sunday, 5 June 2011

Not on my patch, MP tells gangs

TOUGH-talking National MP Todd McClay is taking aim at the gangs.

The Rotorua-based MP wants to introduce a private member's bill that will ban gang patches from all property that government departments own or rent.

McClay intends to put his bill in the Parliamentary ballot this week and says once it is drawn its introduction is a formality, because he already has the numbers to vote it in.

"This is one more step towards making the life of gang members difficult," McClay told Sunday News.

"This is about recognising victims, the rights of victims, and putting them before criminals. It's one more step towards finding a way of getting rid of them because they are just criminal organisations as far as I am concerned."

He said his proposed law had been 18 months in the making, but when it was passed gangs would be stripped of the patches they wore.

"They wear their patches and other insignia as a mark of pride.

"It identifies the wearer as someone who is involved in crime, and who has probably had to commit crime for the right to wear that patch."

But his law would mean fines of up to $2000 for those who broke it.

It would also give police officers the right to confiscate and destroy patches and other insignia.

The High Court recently ruled a gang patch ban in Whanganui was unlawful.

That bylaw, introduced by the Whanganui council, had been in place for 18 months before it was struck out because it covered too much of the city.

McClay said his legislation had been written in a way to avoid legal challenges, clearly stating which buildings and property, including car parks, it would apply to.

Gang patches would be out in state-funded schools, hospitals, airports and government departments such as Winz, ACC, Housing NZ, Sport and Recreation NZ, Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Maori Development.

McClay said he was talking to officials from hospitals around the country, who told him it was common for gang members to wear their patches into wards when visiting family or friends.

"They may not necessarily have any intent while visiting, but it must be very uncomfortable for parents or staff caring for other sick children to see that," he said.

He was also aware of "intimidation" inflicted on workers in a range of government departments when visited by patch-wearing gang members.

The ban would stop short of banning patches from the 66,000 state houses owned or managed by Housing NZ and, while it would cover all buildings on Conservation Department property, it would not cover blocks of native bush.

"If a number of idiot gang members want to stand in the bush somewhere with their patches on, good on them," McClay said.

Opponents of the Whanganui bylaw argued it was a breach of civil rights and freedom of expression but McClay said he had no sympathy with those who were offended by his proposed legislation.

"I will put the rights of law-abiding citizens before criminals every day of the week. There will be those who will say it's an infringement but these are gangs, people who attack old ladies in the streets or sell drugs."

McClay said his bill would provide police with another "tool" to tackle gang-related crime.

 

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