National | Gangs

Hipkins cavils on 'overdone' police presence at mobster tangi

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was in full election mode when he was asked to comment on police activities at a Mongrel Mob tangi yesterday.

The tangi was held in Ōpōtiki for local Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Taiatini, and many locals, including children, lined the route to the event waving as hundreds of patch-wearing mobsters drove by, with a large police presence criticised by onlookers.

Taiatini died after what police called a “disorder-related incident” last Friday, which is under investigation.

Both Ōpōtiki local primary and secondary schools closed for several days and 100 extra police were brought to the town as plans were made for the tangi, which involved hundreds of gang members.

Political leaders criticised those closures with National leader Christopher Luxon telling Newshub that Ōpōtiki had been “overtaken” by a gang after Taiatini’s death.

"Why on earth do parents and students just trying to go about their daily business have to be inconvenienced because gangs have come to town for a week?"

Locals said the students and teachers had shared whakapapa to Taiatini and were taking part in the tangi

Police independence

But the prime minister, asked if the police had overdone their job given there hadn’t been unlawful behaviour, to the point where mourners said they felt unable to grieve, rejected the premise of the question.

“I think it's really important that the police make those decisions independently instead of the government and politicians and so I haven't said that they have done too much or too little and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to do that,” Hipkins told a press conference.

“Our job is for us to make sure that the police have got the tools they need to keep the community safe and I'm confident that we are doing that.

Earlier in the week Hipkins was reported as saying “gang convoys suck for everybody who is disrupted by them”.

But yesterday he said: “Obviously it's a tragic situation and I think anybody would recognise that when someone has died, tensions would be higher, emotions would be higher and I'm sure that the police would be working harder to support that community to stay safe during what has clearly been an emotional situation.”