Former drug kingpin Billy Macfarlane wants gangs outlawed in New Zealand

A former drug kingpin wants gangs outlawed and fears more people will die if nothing is done.

Bay of Plenty’s Billy Macfarlane says a tougher law-and-order approach is needed over gangs.

“Are we going to wait for more people to die? More cops to get shot? More members of the public to get shot?”

His comments come after the Government announced a new $562 million package for police aimed at tackling gangs and other organised crime over the next four years.

Highlights include an additional $94m going towards tackling gangs and organised crime, further investment in additional frontline police, a new police firearms unit and $198.3m going towards reformation programmes.

The Bay of Plenty has been a hotbed for gang-related and organised crime recently, with police last year saying gangs were the main factor.

A social services boss says working with offenders as early as possible is key and more work was needed to make the community “a safer place”.

The leaders of the region’s two largest cities would welcome more frontline police and the nation’s top cop said the investment promises would help keep Kiwis safe amid the ever-changing policing landscape.

The Police Minister says gangs have been a part of the landscape for 50 years but the Government has “absolutely no tolerance” of them.

READ MORE: Government $562 million police, crime package amid gang, guns, ram raid spree

Billy Macfarlane once ran a major methamphetamine operation in the Bay of Plenty but now works to rehabilitate criminals.

“I think gangs should be outlawed from the street because we’re talking about public harm now,” Macfarlane said.

“When are we going to get to the point when we’re going to take a hard line? Are we going to wait for more people to die? More cops to get shot? More members of the public to get shot?

“We need to take a stronger approach.”

Macfarlane’s programme, Pūwhakamua, won’t take in any active gang members because gang culture was “overpowering” what they were trying to do.

He said his approach was using kaupapa Māori and was best implemented when the groups were small.

“We don’t do the warrior stuff, we’re more on the phase of ‘once were gardeners’ and use a kind approach for these men to talk about what’s really been going on,” he said.

“We see these big bad gang members shedding tears because they can be comfortable and grow.

“You can’t do that in jail. They’re not going to sit around all these wannabes and get emotional because they’re going to be called sissies.”

Innocent victims of gang violencein recent years included Samiuela Anania Tupou, 21, who was murdered by two Bloods gang members in Auckland in 2019, and a taxi driver who was injured by bullet fragments when Mongrel Mob member Te Kuti Tahana opened fire on a police officer at a Rotorua intersection in 2019.

Figures from the Ministry of Corrections showed the number of gang affiliates in prison had increased by nearly 1500 since 2010, down 459 from its peak in 2020.

There were 2736 gang-affiliated prisoners as of February 28.

Police could not provide up-to-date gang member figures but records in April 2021 showed there were 1493 in the Bay of Plenty, more than any other region in the country.

Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services executive director Tommy Wilson said it was important to work with offenders from a young age, which it does through a programme called Manaaki Rangatahi.

“If you put these boys into juvenile lock-up, they learn to become better criminals and gang members,” Wilson said.

“Tauranga is defined as ‘The Safe Anchorage’ but we’ve got to do more to make it a safer place. To do that, we’ve got to engage with these youths at the first possible occasion. That’s our whole focus.”

Wilson said action over words was key.

“Whether it’s youth crime, ram-raiding or gang behaviour, there’s always a point of disconnection. We need to figure out how to reconnect people.

“We can’t keep invoicing the police, the hospitals and the courts …we need to be able to engage and work with these people before they fall into the incarceration system.”

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said some of the $94m going towards tackling gangs and organised crime would focus on the social factors that lead to people joining gangs.

“This will have a strong focus on enforcing the law while also preventing the harms caused by gangs and organised crime.

“This approach is in addition to Operations Tauwhiro and Cobalt, which work to break supply chains by seizing illicit assets and proceeds of crime and by disrupting firearms trafficking and violence.”

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the policing environment was changing and welcomed the $562m investment over four years.

“This investment acknowledges these changes and will help keep our staff and all New Zealanders safe.”

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said collaboration across agencies and organisations was the way forward.

“It’s not just about more police or crime-focused initiatives – it’s also about looking at how we address other contributors to our social issues like housing, youth engagement, health and poverty.”

Tauranga City Council commission chairwoman Anne Tolley would welcome more frontline police, with numbers in Tauranga low for its population size.

“We have some significant gang issues, so we look forward to a big increase in police staff to deal with them.

“We also have some high-profile youth issues and would welcome more police capability in that area.”

Rotorua MP Todd McClay asked why the Government was throwing money at tackling gangs and ram raids while denying there was a crisis.

“I’m concerned that this money won’t get to where it’s most needed and that the Government doesn’t know how to make a difference.”

Police Minister Poto Williams said the Government had made “record investments”, allowing police to undertake major operations, deploy 300 more organised crime staff and have 1400 more frontline police.

“Operation Tauwhiro alone has seen 1,600 firearms seized, 1,300 people arrested and 54 kilograms of meth taken out of circulation.

“These are the outcomes that come from more police funding.

“Budget 2022 goes even further, setting aside funding to ensure police numbers continue to align with population growth, which means they won’t fall as they did in 2011 and 2013.”

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