FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
Why do people join gangs?
People join gangs for a variety of reasons including...
How do gangs recruit new members?
Gangs recruit from a variety of sources including...
Family members and extended family.
Criminal associates and supporters of the club.
“Feeder” groups, such as “social” motorcycle clubs.
Other chapters, (such as members moving from one Mongrel Mob chapter to another).
Public events, such as motorcycle shows and poker runs.
Internet, via gang websites and networking sites.
Many gangs could double or treble their membership overnight if they wanted to. Most gangs, particularly motorcycle gangs, like to restrict their numbers so they have greater control over their members. The majority of gangs prefer to approach potential prospects than have people come to them asking to join. Some gangs struggle to attract suitable prospects. They will sometimes take whoever they can get, rather than have no prospects at all, so they have people to undertake menial tasks for them.
How old are most prospects?
Prospects of motorcycle gangs are normally aged in their late 20's to late 30's although they are sometimes considerably older. (There have been a few occasions in New Zealand where prospects have been aged in their 50's). Prospects in ethnic gangs are usually younger and are often in their late teens. Prospects of street gangs can be even younger.
How long does it take for a prospect to gain their patch?
The amount of time that a person spends “prospecting” varies from gang to gang and depends on how well the prospect performs. The time can vary from several months to many years. It usually takes from one to three years for most motorcycle gangs. Prospects in ethnic gangs usually take from three to twelve months to earn their patch.
What do prospects do?
Prospects are normally treated like slaves. They are required to do tasks such as guarding motorbikes, keeping the clubhouse clean, working the bar, doing guard duty at the clubhouse and running errands for members. In some gangs a person “prospects” under one particular member, while in others prospects work for all patchmembers.
Prospects are required to spend a significant amount of their time at the clubhouse or on gang related activities. They must do as directed by patchmembers. Prospecting is similar to an apprenticeship. Prospects are taught the way the club operates and as they progress they learn more and more about the gangs criminal activities.
What does a prospect have to do to earn his patch?
A prospect must gain the trust of all members. He must prove that he will put the gang ahead of everything else. He must be accepted as a person who will remain loyal to the gang no matter what. Prospects are usually voted in by patchmembers and in many gangs this must be unanimous.
Patching criteria will depend on what is happening at the time. If a gang needs members in a hurry, normal procedures will be relaxed and a prospect may gain their patch quicker than usual. In some gangs people can become patchmembers without ever prospecting.
Prospects must be prepared to engage in illegal activities to prove their loyalty to the gang and to eliminate the possibility that they are an undercover police officer. I don’t know of any gang member who has gained his patch without engaging in some form of crime.
Are there any specific crimes that a prospect must commit before he earns his patch?
Prospects gain their patch after gaining acceptance from members of the gang after a suitable period of time. Prospects that are close to receiving their patch are sometimes told to commit a particular crime (such as an aggravated robbery) as a final test of their courage and commitment to the gang. This is more common in gangs like the Mongrel Mob or Black Power than motorcycle gangs.
A prospect will sometimes gain their patch when they commit a particular crime, especially if is something done in the interests of the gang, (such as attacking a rival) or accepting the blame for a crime committed by another member of the gang (“taking the rap”).
The amount of crime that a prospect commits varies considerably from gang to gang. At the bare minimum all prospects are likely to commit firearms and weapons offences because they spend considerable time on “guard duty” when they are responsible for the security of the clubhouse. This involves knowing where firearms and other weapons are kept and moving the weapons when the gang believes they are going to be raided by the police. Prospects are often responsible for carrying guns and other weapons on behalf of the gang.
Gangs have a hierarchical structure and prospects are often the ones who commit crimes while those higher up reap the rewards. Prospects are often considered “disposable” and are used by patchmembers to do their dirty work. From the gang’s point of view, it is better that prospects get in trouble than patchmembers.
Do gangs still have initiation ceremonies?
Some gangs have initiation ceremonies but in most bike gangs the new member receives his patch with nothing more than handshakes, backslaps and hugs from the members. There’s usually a party afterwards (known as a “patching party”) when he’s expected to shout.
In the 1960’s and 70’s a new patch would often be defiled by other members, who would pour urine, excrement or other waste products over it, usually while the new member was wearing it! There’s a couple of clubs that still do this but most have moved on.
What rules do gangs have about wearing gang clothing?
There are times when gang members must wear their patch (such as “church” - the gang's weekly meeting) but for the rest of the time it is up to the member what gang clothing he wears. Some always wear some form of gang clothing, such as their patch, gang T-shirts, jewellery or a particular colour of clothing (such as red for the Mongrel Mob or blue for the Black Power). Other gang members prefer to adopt a much lower profile and only wear gang clothing when they have to.
Members of some bike gangs must wear their patch whenever they ride their motorbike. Motorcycle gangs normally have the rule that patches must not be worn inside a vehicle.
What happens if a gang member loses his patch?
A gang member is expected to look after this patch at all costs. He can be kicked out of the gang if he is careless with his patch, such as having it stolen. (Some gang members keep their patch at the clubhouse when they aren’t wearing it to prevent this happening).
If a gang member loses his patch to rivals, he is expected to do everything he possibly can to retrieve it as soon as possible. Taking a gang member's patch is not only an insult to the gang member who lost it, but to the gang as a whole. The forcible taking of a rivals patch is known as “scalping” and has become less common due to the repercussions that follow. People have been killed in New Zealand over the theft of a gang patch.
In some gangs if a member loses his patch through no fault of his own, he will be given another patch. In other gangs, members get one patch, and if they lose it, they don’t get another one.
What types of offending are gang members involved in?
Gang members are involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including… homicides, assaults, home invasions, robberies, kidnapping and extortion, firearms and weapons offences; manufacture and distribution of drugs, cultivation of cannabis; sexual offences; burglary, theft, receiving and other property related offences; and fraud.
Core activities for many gang members involve violence and drug dealing. Gangs use many forms of intimidation to maintain control of their criminal activities including threats and physical assaults.
Are all gang members criminals?
The amount of criminal activity varies considerably from gang to gang and also between individual gang members. Not all gang members commit crime. There are some who get up and go to work each day! However, the overwhelming majority of gang members are career criminals who are heavily involved in crime. The vast majority of New Zealand gang members sell drugs, particularly methamphetamine (‘P’) and cannabis. Crime is at the core of most gangs and is often the main reason they exist.
Those few gang members who do not commit crime are surrounded by it. They are expected to turn a blind eye to what goes on around them and to maintain a cone of silence and not assist police or implicate others.
How does a gang split the proceeds of crime?
Most offending is done on an individual basis, where the person involved in crime keeps the proceeds for themselves. Members are free to do whatever criminal activity they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with “club business,” reflect badly on the gang or break any of the gang’s rules. Membership of the gang gives them the freedom to carry out their offending knowing they have the support and protection of the gang should any problems arise. Some gangs require members to give the gang a percentage of the proceeds of their illegal activities (usually around 10%).
Many gangs have what they call “club business”, which is conducted for the benefit of the club as a whole. For example, a gang will sometimes make a bulk purchase of drugs, which are then sold to individual members at a price that will make the gang money and also leave room for the member to make money on the deal too.
Prospects are sometimes ordered to commit crime and the proceeds go to the gang as a whole or in some cases to the member who told the prospect to do the crime.
Do gangs have any rules about drug use?
Most motorcycle gangs have rules about what drugs members are allowed to use, what drugs members are allowed to sell and what drugs are allowed to be kept at the gang clubhouse.
Heroin use and recreational needle use is banned by most gangs. Heroin use is usually punished by immediate expulsion because gangs are very concerned that the persons drug use will override their loyalty to the gang. The sale of heroin is banned by most bike gangs (mainly due to the dangers of dealing with a client-base renowned for being police informers!)
Many bike gangs have banned their members from smoking P although they still sell it. It should be noted that while smoking P is banned, members are allowed to “snort” the same stuff, (this is considered to be doing “speed” not P). Many methamphetamine users claim that the “come down” from snorted meth is nowhere near as bad as the “come down” from smoking P.
Members are expected to “handle their drugs”. Some gangs will ban members from using drugs until they have got their drug use under control. Members with serious drug problems are sometimes kicked out because they are considered to be a risk to the gang.
Do all gang members use drugs?
Drugs are used by the vast majority of gang members, however there are a few that do not use any drugs at all. It’s more common to find a gang member that doesn’t drink alcohol than one who doesn’t use drugs.
What precautions do gang members take to avoid being caught by the police?
A gang will often have a standard way of doing things which all members are expected to follow. These have evolved over time and dictates how members should conduct illegal activities so they won’t get caught or implicate other members of the gang.
Some gang members are very professional and are extremely hard to catch.
The following precautions are often taken...
Only dealing with persons they have known for a long time.
Conducting counter surveillance.
Using debugging equipment.
Writing things down (rather than speaking out loud) to prevent being bugged.
Meeting in places that the police would be unable to bug.
Using codes and sign language.
Using safehouses or storage units to hide illegal items.
Operating in small groups.
Having other people accept blame (“Taking the rap”).
Using associates to do their “dirty work”.
Using “front men” to conceal their involvement in some types of regulated activities (such as owning licensed premises).
Some gang members are better at crime than others. Our jails are full of gang members, proving they aren’t all criminal masterminds. Some take very few precautions and rely on violence and intimidation so victims will be too scared to make complaints to the police.
What is taxing?
“Taxing” is when a person is “fined” by a gang member for perceived (or imaginary) wrongs and money and/or property is taken from them. Refusal results in violence. It’s certainly not uncommon for persons to be fined tens of thousands of dollars or to be taxed their car or motorbike.
Persons are taxed for a variety of reasons including using a gang’s name, saying something bad about a gang member or being late paying a debt. Most victims don’t make a complaint to the police due to fear of repercussions from the gang.
What do I do if I’m being threatened by gang members?
If you are threatened by a gang member contact the police as soon as possible. If the circumstances are such that you don’t have the opportunity to call the police then your first priority is to make yourself safe. It’s better to give up property than to risk serious injury from an assault. Call the police as soon as you can safely do so. Gang members tend to pick on the weak and if they find a “soft target” they often continue to victimise them. If you don’t make a complaint to the police, the gang member is likely to keep taking things from you. The police will give you advice about how to keep yourself safe including how to avoid further threats and intimidation.
What is the worst gang in New Zealand?
New Zealand gangs have a long history of committing serious crimes. The majority of gang members have many convictions and most have served terms of imprisonment. Gang chapters are usually autonomous and there are big differences in how individual chapters are run, so some chapters are worse than others, and some gang members are worse than others. Gangs take pride in their nasty reputations and I won’t add to it by saying who I consider to be the worst.
How often do gang members carry weapons?
The weapons carried by gang members will depend on the circumstances at the time, such as relations with rivals and the amount of attention they are receiving from the police. Some gangs require their members to carry a weapon whenever they are wearing their patch, so they can protect their colours if attacked by rivals. The weapon need not be a knife or a gun and is often a large metal torch, a spanner or a hammer.
What weapons do gangs have and who looks after them?
Gangs usually have a range of weapons at their disposal. Gangs and firearms go hand in hand and there’s usually at least one firearm keep at the gang’s clubhouse in case of an attack by rivals. Pistols and sawn-off shotguns are the most common firearms but most gangs have access to other firearms including semi automatic weapons. The sergeant at arms is in charge of the gangs’ arsenal, although in most gangs members will also have their own weapons.
What are the reasons for gang violence?
Gang violence occurs for a number of reasons including...
Protection of criminal activities.
Gang violence can be very hard to predict because it’s often spontaneous. It can be a simple case of someone being caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, or showing someone disrespect. Gang violence is sometimes unavoidable for gang members because they are expected to act a certain way, regardless of the consequences.
If one member of a gang is involved in a fight, all other members must join in immediately. A common gangland saying is "He's my brother, and he's not always right but he's always my brother". To quote Sonny Barger, the infamous Hells Angel leader...
“One on all, all on one means that when you fight with one Hells Angel, you fight us all. We all know what we have to do if somebody gets out of line, which happens. Assholes get drunk and think they're tough and there are a whole lot of people out there who like to try and whip a Hells Angel. If we stood up and fought everybody one on one, we'd be fighting non stop. Instead, it's easier to beat the hell out of one guy so the next ten guys don't dare try anything.”
Hell's Angel by Ralph "Sonny" Barger with Keith and Kent Zimmerman. Harper Collins Publishers, USA. (2000) Page 39.
Australia has recently suffered a spate of serious gang violence which has included murders, bombings and drive-by shootings. In March 2009 a group of up to 15 Comancheros and Hells Angels brawled at Sydney Airport for about 15 minutes. The out-numbered Hells Angels were on the receiving end and 29 year old Anthony Zervas, the brother of one of the Angels, was beaten to death in front of hundreds of check-in passengers.
The presence of numerous surveillance cameras in a high security area did not stop them and unfortunately this is nothing new. One of the best known gang clashes happened in Laughlin, Nevada in April 2002 when more than 100 members of the Hells Angels and the Mongols MC fought inside Harrah's Casino. Two Hells Angels and a Mongol were killed during the brawl and another Hells Angel was fatally shot riding home. Julian Sher and William Marsden wrote about this incident in their book Angels of Death.
"More than any other recent explosion of biker violence in the United States, the Laughlin shootout exposed just how brazen the Hells Angels and their rivals were. It wasn't the toll of the dying and injured that shocked people; there had been deadlier biker confrontations in recent years. It was the audacity of the Angels - and the Mongols - the outright contempt for the law, the flaunting of biker bravado. In a packed public arena, in full view of hundreds of security cameras, they waged a pitched battle to see who would be king of the outlaw jungle. And while the Mongols fled, stuffing their vests in garbage cans and air vents to avoid being identified by the police after the battle, not a single Hells Angel took off his colours."
(Angels of Death by Julian Sher and William Marsden. Carroll and Graf Publishers, Canada. (2006) Page 76.)
What are common security features of gang clubhouses?
Most gang pads have extensive security features. When one gang has serious conflict with another, rival clubhouses are acceptable targets.
The following features are common...
Closed circuit television cameras.
Wire mesh netting (to stop objects that are thrown into the pad).
Guards. (Most gangs have rostered guard duty).
Weapons. (Most pads have at least one firearm in case of attacks by rivals).
Crash barrier (to prevent a vehicle been driven through the front entrance).
What is “Church”?
Church is the gang’s regular meeting that all members must attend. Most gangs hold church once a week. Church is for patchmembers only and prospects do not attend unless invited, although they are required to do guard duty while church is taking place. Most gangs impose fines for non-attendance or for being late.
What gets discussed at church?
A wide range of matters affecting the club are discussed including problems, politics, other chapters, other gangs, future events, the clubhouse, what needs doing, rules and fundraising. Many gangs use whiteboards so that nothing illegal is discussed out loud.
What’s the difference between motorcycle gangs and ethnic gangs?
In most cases members of motorcycle gangs must own and regularly ride a motorbike. Many motorcycle gang members are genuine motorcycle enthusiasts and are fanatical about their bikes.
Motorcycle gangs are usually better organised and have more control over their members than ethnic gangs. Motorcycle gangs tend to be more regimented in everything they do. Ethnic gangs often have fewer rules about what drugs members are allowed to use.
Why do gangs call themselves “clubs”?
Most motorcycle gangs take exception to being called a “gang” (which they say relates to street gangs like the Black Power or Mongrel Mob). Motorcycle gangs prefer to use the name “club” instead.
The term “club” is now commonly used throughout the gang world, including by many ethnic gangs. This is an attempt to get away from the negative connotations of the word “gang” and to downplay their criminality. (On this site, the words “gang” and “club” mean the same thing).
Is it illegal to be in a gang?
It isn’t illegal to be a member of a gang unless the gang is an organised crime group. The offence of Participating in an Organised Criminal Group is contained in Section 98A of the Crimes Act.
The ingredients are...
Objective of either committing serious violence or making money from offences punishable by four or more years jail.
Knowledge that the gang fits into the above criteria.
Participation in the gang.
Knowledge that their participation contributes to the gang’s criminal activity or is reckless to that effect.
Why do people leave a gang?
People leave gangs for a variety of reasons including...
Changing priorities in life (growing-up, putting family first, getting too old etc).
Internal gang politics and personalities.
Breaching gang rules.
Drug-related problems including drug addiction.
Religion. Finding God.
What happens when you leave a gang?
Members leave in either “good standing” or in “bad standing”. Gang members who leave on good terms often maintain friendships with current members and continue to support the gang and attend its events.
Some gangs, particularly ethnic gangs and street gangs, have a “blood in, blood out” rule where members are given a beating by the gang when they join and, again, when they leave. This used to be common practice but it is becoming less common. Once the attitude was “you come with nothing, you go with nothing” but many gangs now see that there is no advantage smashing over a “Brother” when he wants to leave the gang.
Members kicked out on bad terms usually receive a serious beating, when they are attacked by other gang members. Some disgraced gang members have been forced to leave their town or even made to leave New Zealand. In some cases gang members have been murdered by their own.
Gang members normally have to pay some form of “leaving fee”. Members of motorcycle gangs usually forfeit their Harley and it’s common for other assets to be stolen as well. Some former members are repeatedly targeted and have many of their possessions taken. Members kicked out must have all their gang tattoos covered or risk the gang forcibly removing them.
Do you think gangs should be banned?
The majority of gang members lead destructive lives and cause wide-spread harm in our communities. Gangs are firmly entrenched in our underworld and considerable resources are needed to combat them. Unfortunately there is no quick-fix or silver bullet. It’s vital that solutions to our gang problems are practical, realistic and workable. While banning gangs is a great idea in theory, it won’t work in practice.
Gangs will never give up despite any new initiatives by the Government. Banning them won’t solve anything. All it will do is drive them further underground, making them harder to catch. Gangs will adapt to any new laws and they will develop into more effective crime groups with a greatly reduced public profile.
What will happen if gangs are banned?
As the debate escalates, gangs will have meetings to discuss their tactics and strategies. They will have chapter meetings, national meetings (attended by representatives from all chapters) and inter-club meetings with other gangs. New Zealand gangs are in regular contact with their Australian counterparts and they’ll learn from their experience fighting the Aussie anti-gang laws.
Gangs will unite to fight a common enemy. They will work together in the short term. Australian gangs formed various groups to oppose their anti-gang laws. The United Motorcycle Council of Queensland for example, represents 17 clubs made up of motorcycle gangs (including many rivals) and 2 Christian MCs. New Zealand gangs will also seek the support of patch-wearing Christian motorcycle clubs because it helps them downplay their criminality.
Gangs will contribute money to a “defence fund” to engage lawyers to represent them as a whole. They will try to find loopholes in the proposed laws. They’ll look for groups who are excluded from the legislation, (such as political parties, trade unions or religious groups) and will seek ways to be classified as such a group. Some gangs may try “rebranding” (renaming their gang) if this avoids the new law.
Rival clubs will appear together at public events to show that they can get along without violence. If there has been recent violence between gangs, the level of violence will drop significantly because further conflict will hurt them all.
Some gangs may be directed by their leaders to stop wearing gang clothing in order to lower their profile. Most members of these gangs will still wear some form of clothing that reflects their club membership (such as a particular colour or style). The tattooing of gang insignia will increase because members know this is one form of insignia the government cannot take away from them.
Some uncommitted members will quit the gang. Those near retirement or with a weak heart may opt out because they don’t want the aggravation. Others will harden their resolve and become stronger as the result of this renewed commitment to their club and their club “brothers”.
Gangs will seek public support to fight the legislation. They will mount an extensive PR campaign and will court the media, seeking as much favourable coverage as possible. They will argue that while some members have convictions, the clubs themselves are not criminal organisations. They will ask “if the law applies to them, who else can they be applied to?” They will invite the media to their events and clubhouses and will portray themselves as likeable rogues who love riding motorcycles. They may hold public meetings and have “open days” when the general public is invited to functions at their clubhouses.
Civil libertarians, lawyers, academics and others will argue that the laws are a serious erosion of our individual rights and a breach of natural justice. (I’ll leave these issues to them.)
There are a range of things that may happen when the law first comes into force. Gangs and their respective members will respond in different ways. Some gangs will break the new law in a very public manner, but the majority won’t. Each gang would have planned their actions in advance. If the entire gang is arrested they are likely to go without offering any resistance (although there’ll be plenty of posturing for the TV cameras). Any planned action could be undermined by rogue elements within the gang who have their own agendas. This will make some events unpredictable and difficult to police.
It’s possible that a major gang or a group of gangs may decide to breach the law en masse. Imagine the chaos that would be caused if all members of the Black Power (800 to 1000 patchmembers) broke the law at the same time. It would be a logistical nightmare and there would not be enough police officers to arrest them all.
Gangs have the opportunity to engineer large scale non-violent protest action that would attract widespread international media coverage and harm New Zealand’s international image. I’m not going to spell out all the options but gangs could bring our justice system to a grinding halt, and it would not be just short-term disruption.
All arrested gang members will plead not guilty. They will challenge the law on the grounds of any technicalities their lawyers find as well as alleging a breach of their human rights and the Bill of Rights Act etc. If the law is upheld, it will be appealed.
Police will target gangs using the new legislation. Many gang members will be caught as they struggle to adjust to the new laws or blatantly commit breaches. There will be a significant influx of gang members entering our already struggling prison system. The more gang members in prison, the greater their influence. Being neutral may not be an option in many prisons and inmates will be forced to choose sides. Gang numbers in prison will dramatically increase. Gangs will also recruit new hard-core members to maintain their presence on the street.
When all avenues of appeal have been exhausted, gangs will accept that they are illegal organisations. They will expect that breaches of the law will result in imprisonment. (Selling methamphetamine is punishable by life imprisonment and that does not stop them.)
Gangs will look for ways around the law. They will meet in smaller numbers and will stop riding together as a club. Members will conceal gang membership from authorities. Gang patches won’t be worn in public as gangs adopt more discreet membership symbols, such as tattoos or jewellery. Intelligence gathering will become more difficult for police.
When the pressure is applied by authorities, further uncommitted members will quit. Some chapters or smaller clubs will cease to exist. Some of the more hard-core members from defunct gangs will join other gangs. These changes will result in the remaining gangs becoming more hard-core, with moderate members being the most likely to leave. (Most gangs are run as a democracy and moderate members often balance the views of the more extreme.)
Banning particular gangs will make membership of those gangs more elite and their enhanced reputation will help them attract new prospects. Some gangs will put aside their differences and form closer relationships however co-operation between many rival gangs will deteriorate over time because of long-standing rivalries. Things have happened in the past which are not easily forgotten or forgiven. Gangs have extensive intelligence gathering capabilities and they will continue to know who their rivals are and what they are up to.
Myths around gangs will grow and it will become harder to distinguish fact from fiction. The police will suffer from a significant reduction in the quality of gang intelligence. Police estimates of gang membership will be wildly inaccurate as they will be unable to determine who is actually in the gang. Gang patches are the single most important method of confirming gang membership and without them the accuracy of intelligence will diminish.
Investigations into some offences will become much more difficult because of intelligence gaps. The suspect pool will be often larger than it should be and resources will not be focused on the correct offenders. Gangs and gang members will continue to learn and will keep evolving to get around law enforcement methods.