Children found with weapons in an Auckland shopping mall are part of an attempt to revive an old gang, a youth services group says.
An Auckland shopping centre was reporting children as young as 12 or 13 being caught carrying knives, and offices at the Mangere Town Centre being shot with BB guns.
The town centre's management said the children found with knives were known to them, and to the police.
Strive Community Trust manager of youth development services Junior Tui said over the past year, boys and girls aged 13 to 18 had been involved in re-establishing an old gang, which had come and gone in the past decade.
"There's a gang that was sort of established maybe five or 10 years ago. It wasn't a real dangerous gang, but this gang is trying to rebuild and establish itself again.
"We definitely know that they are trying to recruit more young members," he said.
Mr Tui said the teenagers might be carrying knives because they felt they needed protection in fights against other people who could pull a weapon on them.
He said the local neighbourhood policing teams would pass information to Strive, which tried to engage young people in youth clubs and mentoring programmes.
Children carrying weapons
Management at the Mangere Town Centre said recent incidents included a large kitchen knife dumped outside the library and the centre's offices fired at from a BB gun.
Police said there was no spike in crime in the area but the centre's manager said there was a growing trend of people carrying weapons.
As well as the Mangere Town Centre's shopping area, the space has community sites such as the library and Local Board offices.
It was outside the library that, staff said, a 12-year-old boy left a 20cm kitchen knife after being asked to leave.
In another incident a knife was flashed at a bus stop.
Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board chair Lydia Sosene, whose office is next door, said there had been similar instances over the past two weeks.
"There are three youths that are known to police, that are known to the security in Mangere Town Centre, that for some reason feel they need weapons, and that's a threat to public safety," said Ms Sosene.
Security at the library was being increased and staff areas were closed to the public.
Shots fired at offices
Town Centre manager David Fearon said two weekends ago young people, who he thought were under 16, fired a BB gun at his office during lunchtime, leaving holes in the windows.
"Young kids have got BB guns and they're firing little steel ball things and have broken our windows.
That's the first [time children have been found with BB guns], but there have been other instances where members of the public have been threatened with these fake guns," he said.
Mr Fearon said three security staff, two ambassadors (community wardens) and 30 cameras watched the centre, but it was a public space and people could not be kept away.
"The issue we've got with the Mangere Town Centre is that we cannot trespass people from the whole town centre.
"We're not like a Westfield (shopping centre) which is privately owned. This is a public space, and it makes it very difficult for us to ban people from coming to the town centre," he said.
Shop owners said while knives were rarely brought into shops, they were part of gang culture among young people.
Police: Local crime not on the rise
Police are adamant there was no spike in crime in the area.
Inspector Dave Glossop from Counties Manukau Police said he was concerned about the issue of BB guns, and said he caught an even younger child with one just a few days ago.
"Only as recently as this week, was I driving along in a police car to see the car in front of me presenting a firearm out the window.
"Obviously I promptly stopped that vehicle to find a 9- or 10-year-old in possession of a very realistic looking BB gun, driving along in an SUV, with it hanging out of the window. Believe me those parents got a very stern growling, for allowing that sort of thing," he said.
Inspector Glossop said there were two policing teams in Mangere and although it was a busy area, it had experienced a drop in crime. There are pop-up police stations, and officers are working with local youth.