Explainer: How do other countries deal with gang crime?

Source: 1News

Police ministers come and go, but the question around banning gang patches stays the same.

New Zealand's already tried that, and according to former National MP Chester Borrows - the man who created the law - it didn't work.

The High Court in 2011 ruled the Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act breached New Zealand's Bill of Rights.

So, if that didn't work, what will?

We take a look at what other countries have done around the world.


Australia is unsurprisingly facing the similar gang issues to New Zealand, especially in New South Wales where violence has escalated - so much so, a new taskforce is being set up to try and combat the problem.

Their laws at both state and federal levels focus on gangs, rather than the crimes. The logic behind anti-consorting laws is if gangsters can't meet up, they can't make trouble.

Rebels gang members in Perth

Taskforces like 'Strike Force Raptor' and 'Erebus' search for and arrest members.

Western Australia has gone further still, with an all-out ban on gang patches and insignia, including facial tattoos. It's a hardline approach that wouldn't necessarily work in New Zealand, as a lot of their laws would breach our Bill of Rights Act. We also have a different appreciation for tattoos and moko.

United States

The US has a rather different approach.

The first amendment guarantees citizens freedom of assembly, meaning gangs are technically allowed. So their federal laws - specifically the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) - target crime rather than the gangs themselves. If caught, gang members face up to 20 years in prison.

Mongols gang arrests in LA

When it comes to the individual states, they're all different. Most tend to follow RICO, but some are tougher on gangs than others.


Canada's approach is somewhere between Australia and the US.

They also focus on targeting firearms. Canada's recent spike in drive-by shootings has provoked the government to rush in laws making it harder for gangs to access guns like semi-automatics, assault rifles and handguns.

Police monitoring gang situation in Toronto

People who already own those types of guns are being forced to sell them back to the Government, like New Zealand's buyback in 2019. There's also a ban on resales, imports and transfers.

Canadian lawmakers say the reforms could be a game-changer in combating the escalating violence.

United Kingdom

The UK doesn't have laws targeting gangs or membership, like the US focusing on the actual crime.

That includes possession of drugs like cannabis and cocaine, guns without a licence, and knives - which are outlawed completely in public, no matter the reason.

Super Courts deal with drug crime in Mancheste

If gang violence escalates, councils can activate a civil tool called a 'gang injunction'. It allows police to get involved more aggressively.

But British MPs say that injunction has barely made a difference.

New Zealand

Back on home soil, the debate rages on.

Gang insignia has already been banned in hospitals, schools, government buildings and even public swimming pools.

National wants to adopt the Australian-style approach, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already said it's not quite right.

Ardern's current approach is similar to Canada in targeting firearms and boosting police forces.

In the 2022 Budget, $94 million was dedicated to combating gangs and organised crime; but questions remain around what that will achieve, and how.