Coffs-Clarence Police clamp down on bikie consorting
CONTROVERSIAL consorting laws aimed at stopping convicted criminals associating with each other are back in the spotlight, with newly released figures showing 336 consorting warnings have been issued by North Coast police since the laws were introduced.
Coffs-Clarence Police issued 16 consorting warnings to outlaw motorcycle gang (OMCG) members but laid no charges between April 2012 and September 2015.
Tweed-Byron Police issued 86 warnings and no charges, while Richmond Police issued 234 warnings, also with no charges laid.
The figures, released under a NSW Greens freedom of information request, show a total of 8556 warnings were issued to 2412 people statewide, with 54 people charged.
Police can issue consorting warnings to anyone, regardless of whether they have committed a crime, prohibiting them from interacting with a person who has been convicted of a crime.
The laws were established to target OMCGs and were upheld following a High Court challenge initiated by Nomads bikies in 2014.
Greens MP David Shoebridge is an outspoken critic of the laws, and said they are being unfairly used to target people with no criminal links.
"It means people on the North Coast are going to be subjected to restrictions on their civil liberties - who they meet with, email and talk to - because of a purported crime fear that arose in outer Western Sydney," Mr Shoebridge said.
"It was originally passed by parliament because police said they needed to deal with outlaw motorcycle gangs.
"Now it is being used across the board.
"Consorting makes it a crime - not to harm somebody or steal their property - but to meet with someone the police don't want you to meet with."
The State Crime Command's Gangs Squad commander, Detective Inspector Deb Wallace, said the laws are an important tool to assist police in tackling crime.
"They are aimed at convicted criminals and those who associate with them," Det Insp Wallace said.
"It's important to note that anyone who is charged with consorting has already been formally warned by police on at least two occasions."
There are five recognised OMCGs operating in the Coffs-Clarence region, including the Nomads, Rebels and Lone Wolf in Coffs Harbour, a merged group of Mongols and Finks in Woolgoolga and the Gladiators in Grafton.
Coffs-Clarence Local Area Command crime manager, Detective Inspector Darren Jameson, said police have zero tolerance for OMCG behaviour in the community.
"Traditionally, OMCGs are involved in organised crime, prostitution, fraud, standovers and significant drug supply," Det Insp Jameson said.
"Two clubhouses here - the Rebels and Nomads - have already been closed as a result of strong policing.
"Our focus remains strongly on OMCGs - many here now have reduced numbers and aren't as strong.
"We regularly engage in mass vehicle stops for OMCG members coming into the Coffs-Clarence area and utilise these to issue consorting warnings.
"We will use every tactic available to us to disrupt and dismantle OMCG networks in our community."