Outlaw Bikers and Patched Street Gangs: The Nexus Between Violence and Shadow Economy

Author: Bradley, C
Published in National Security Journal, 15 May 2020

Such a culture of silence can also lead to gangs establishing themselves as their own local law enforcement if a vacuum exists or where the community feels it cannot rely on police.58Codes of silence within the community can be enforced with violence as seen with Chris Crean in New Plymouth who agreed to give evidence against the Black Power.59 Witnessing a gang confrontation in March 1996, Crean, who had no association to the gang milieu in Taranaki, was shot and killed by the Black Power to prevent his testifying.60 To this end violence acts as a sub-cultural construct to control communication within the shadow milieu. Indeed, von Lamp sees violence as a functional alternative to trust.61

Mechanisms of trust, silence and violence potentially work well for some outlaw bikers or patched street gangs to establish and control markets in the shadow economy. Such tenets can create an image of organised criminality. Barker recognises the situation where those members who commit serious crime are arguably doing so with the consent or complicity of other members not involved in any crime whatsoever.62 As such, these individuals represent semi-autonomous actors involved in individual business (rather than as representatives of their gang) but using their gang membership as leverage in the shadow economy.63 A senior member of the Hells Angels in the United States believed during the late 1960s that the patch was valuable for entering the shadow economy.64 The gang conservative/radical continuum,65 identifies the position a gang sits in the criminal continuum to clarify the question of whether outlaw bikers constitute organisations of criminals or criminal organisations. Simply put, at one end are the conservative bikers that may partake in offences such as violence, drunk and disorderly and small-time drug offences while at the other more radical end are those involved in extortion, serious drug offences, and money laundering.66 In this situation, the club will be measured along this continuum by the actions of the members behaviour, whether endorsed by the whole club or not. Quinn and Koch also ask the question of whether outlaw bikers and their crimes represent individual versus chapter “business”.67

The conservative/radical continuum accepts some level of criminality within these organisations. While law enforcement generally views this as a legitimate acknowledgement, some patched street gangs and outlaw bikers in Aotearoa New Zealand would challenge such a view.68 The main question that is asked in this situation is whether all patched members in Aotearoa New Zealand are involved in crime? A more appropriate way of measuring the criminal level of a patched street gang or outlaw biker chapter, given Quinn and Koch’s question of individual or club business, can be applied through this conservative/radical continuum.

Such issues of measuring the nexus between gangs and crime raises questions about the accuracy of data and other information that is available.” A quick scan of media alerts involving gangs and crime, while unscientific, highlight certain groups that are continually attracting police attention or are before the courts. The Head Hunters, the Rebels MC and the recently established Comancheros all seem to fit the criminal outlaw motorcycle club typology set out by Barker.69