Passing a law to ban gang patches in public is part of National’s 100-day plan once it’s in government.

The party also wants to ban gang members from gathering in public and stop known gang offenders from communicating with one another.

But the ban on patches has been the policy’s focal point, with potential police minister Mark Mitchell going as far as saying gang members may have to use foundation to cover up tattoos of gang insignia.

Gang patches are already banned in schools, hospitals, courts and other premises managed by either central or local government.

National’s plan to extend this isn’t the first time authorities have dabbled in banning patches from all public spaces.

Whanganui District Council also passed a bylaw in 2009 which prohibited gang insignia in the district.

A response to violent gang clashes

The mayor at the time, Michael Laws, said the bylaw was a response to increasing gang tensions in the district, mostly between the Mongrel Mob, Hells Angels and Black Power.

A 2007 referendum showed most voters in Whanganui supported a ban on gang patches, with 65% of people in favour of the move.

A bill was introduced in Parliament that year, proposing to give Whanganui District Council the power to ban gang insignia in specified areas.

The Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act eventually passed in 2009.

Labour, the Green Party, the Māori Party and Progressive Party all opposed the bill in its final reading, as did two of ACT’s MPs, Heather Roy and Roger Douglas.

ACT’s three other MPs — Rodney Hide, David Garrett and John Boscawen — voted for the bill, which proved crucial given it only passed by 62 to 59.

First arrest in September 2009

Whanganui District Council passed its bylaw in July 2009. It meant people could be fined up to $2000 for wearing gang insignia in public.

The ban on gang patches in public then came into effect on September 1, with police making their first arrest under the bylaw that same day. A 21-year-old was stopped for speeding and arrested for wearing a gang patch.

There were 13 prosecutions for wearing gang insignia in the first nine months of the bylaw.

Hells Angels seek judicial review

A year after the council passed its bylaw, the Hells Angels sought a judicial review of the ban, saying the bylaw was invalid.

Justice Denis Clifford agreed.

His High Court judgment found the bylaw didn’t specify which public spaces the ban applied, making it invalid under national law.

National to attempt wider ban on gang patches

The incoming government is planning a new raft of measures against gangs.

National wants to make it illegal to wear gang patches in all public places. Its full policy document says tattoos will be exempt from this, although as mentioned earlier, National MPs are already making noises about gang members having to cover up tattoos.

As well as the patch ban, National wants to give police the power to stop gangs gathering in public and to stop gang offenders from communicating with each other.

National would also give police greater powers to search gang members for firearms and make gang membership an aggravating factor at sentencing. These proposed new laws are part of National’s 100-day action plan.

National’s potential coalition partners have not promised a ban on gang patches but have released other policies aimed at gangs.

ACT wants Gang Control Orders, as well as increased police powers to seize assets of gang members found with illegal firearms.

New Zealand First, meanwhile, wants to fund tattoo removal for rehabilitated gang members in prison and create gang-only prisons to reduce recruitment of new gang members. The party also wants gangs designated as terrorist organisations.

Senior Mongrel Mob member Harry Tam has previously said such policies won’t address the root causes of gang violence.

He told Breakfast in June that “we can’t actually arrest our way out of this problem”.

"This problem has been ongoing for decades, and I haven't seen a policy that actually addresses the causes of gang membership."

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