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 nexus is that a view either way ignores the nuanced attitudes towards crime by gangs and the role they may play in the shadow economy. Therefore, this article discusses the divergence in opinions, but before this can happen it is prudent to define the shadow economy.

Fleming, Roman and Farrell describe shadow economics as any activity that falls out­side the purview of government including conscious efforts to avoid official detection.4 It is also referred to as informal, hidden, black, underground, grey, clandestine, illegal and parallel.5 Therefore, the shadow economy is the term generally used to describe the alternative mode of capitalism to the legal trade in licit goods and services. The trade in illicit goods and services, while outside the law, runs parallel, effectively a smaller shadow economy to the larger legal economy.

The percentage of income that makes up the shadow economy in the OECD countries is around 17.7% of the global economy. Within Aotearoa New Zealand the figure for the shadow economy is estimated at 13.6%.6 Given that the national GDP sits at approximately $US206 billion,7 this represents about $US28 billion of untaxed earnings. While not all business conducted within the shadow economy involves gangs, they compromise an important part of it. Some of this shadow activity is tax evasion or under-the-table transactions and not all of this is associated with the trading in illicit goods and services such as illegal and prescription drugs, debt collection or “taxing” in the gang sense. Fleming, Roman and Farrell do however categorise criminal or irregular activities such as illegally produced goods and services, illicit narcotics services which evade legal reporting requirements as a component of the shadow economy.8 To better understand the nexus between some gangs, gang members and crime we must first explore the history of patched gangs in Aotearoa New Zealand.

History of Outlaw Bikers and Patched Street Gangs

As stated above, patched gangs have existed as a small section of the communities who make up the society of Aotearoa New Zealand, and they have done so for several generations.9 Because of social and economic upheaval, young men and women began to create loosely affiliated groups in the 1950s and 1960s.10 From the 1960s, and the arrival of the structure and back patch identifier of the Hells Angles, groups in Aotearoa New Zealand began following the hierarchy and symbolic markers of the outlaw biker culture of the United States (US).11 The outlaw biker and patched street gang show both the outward symbols of gang membership, and the strict hierarchy of office-bearers and internal enforcers. Regardless of a group being a patched street gang or outlaw biker gang, the back patch remains a territorial marker.

Outlaw bikers and patched street gangs formed in the 1960s and quickly took hold across the country. Such groups established ‘Chapters’ which acted as the focal points