14 Nov 2019

Police Māori strategy a re-turning of the tide

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 14 November 2019
A police car featuring koru designs and te reo Māori is on the roads in Counties Manukau to show support for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, NZ Police said.

Photo: NZ Police

The police hope a new strategy will bring down Māori over-representation in criminal justice statistics.

But commentators say the proof will be in the pudding, and that Māori distrust of police remains high.

Te Huringa o Te Tai is a refreshed version of The Turning of The Tide strategy, released in 2012.

That earlier version set ambitious targets for reducing the over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system.

But the results weren’t what police hoped for. Their aim to cut first time offenders by 10 percent failed without shifting the numbers at all, and a goal to slash re-offending actually ended with a modest increase.  

“For whatever reason, they didn’t reach the outcomes or the aspirations that they set out in that strategy, and this is a reaffirmation and commitment to that strategy,” says Julia Whaipooti, a justice reform advocate who is part of an independent advisory group appointed by Justice Minister Andrew Little. The most headline-grabbing goal of the new strategy is a 25 percent reduction in Māori re-offending by 2025.

“It’s admirable and right for the police to set a target because it makes them accountable… because in order to reach that, they’re going to have to change the way that they practice.

“The one thing I’d be critical about that is that it puts it on Māori … in order to do that, the onus needs to be on police to change how they practise, where they patrol, and how they exercise discretion.”

Among the other aims of Te Huringa o Te Tai is improving public trust in the police, particularly among Māori.

“Building that trust is not going to happen by writing in a strategy, ‘we’re going to rebuild trust with Māori.

“The Urewera raids were only 10 years ago, Ihumātao was this year, and we saw the police response there.

“The police actions have always contradicted what they say they want to do.”

The strategy makes clear the impact of colonisation and historical trauma on Māori, and says addressing the “underlying causes” of poor outcomes is paramount to making a meaningful difference.

“I guess the issue though is when you limit it, what can often happen is you have police or a crown agency saying, ‘colonisation happened so that means there are more Māori that come into here’, and that’s beyond their control.

“We don’t want to negate responsibility.”

When releasing the new strategy, police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha spoke of the success of iwi panels, as an alternative to the criminal justice system for some crimes.

Some iwi leaders also expressed optimism that the strategy showed a real commitment from police to turn the numbers around.

But Whaipooti says the introduction of armed police patrol trials flies in the face of what the police strategy sets out, by introducing armed police in areas with predominantly brown populations.

“This seems really contradictory in terms of what the police actions are showing, to what their strategy says that they’re doing.

“The strategy comes out and says we want to work differently with Māori… and then at the same time, they release a policy which has not done any of that.”

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