3 Nov 2017

Māori communities concerned about foreign police plan

12:50 pm on 3 November 2017

Māori leaders say foreign police won't work in their communities, and more Māori liaison officers will be needed to work alongside them if they do come in.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush and Maori liaison officer Warwick Morehu

Taupō area commander Inspector Warwick Morehu (right), with Police Commissioner Mike Bush. Photo: RNZ / Mohamed Hassan

When a stand-off between police and an Onepū local turned into a shootout in March 2016, it took a Māori police officer to bring peace to the situation.

Taupō area commander Inspector Warwick Morehu was personally requested to deal with the situation, and his understanding of the area, the whānau and being Māori were all credited as factors in his success.

Police Minister Stuart Nash has raised the possibility of fast tracking foreign visas to fill some of the 1800 new police roles as part of the coalition deal with New Zealand First.

But that has some Māori community leaders worried.

Wellington-based community advocate Eugene Ryder, who works closely in Māori communities, said he believes Māori are over-represented when it comes to arrests and apprehensions.

In the Far North, former MP and community leader Hone Harawira agreed and said it made more sense to recruit Māori police.

"The history of Māori and policing is not a good one, so for that very reason it's not about Māori being in the police, but the police recognising the value and the importance of having a stronger Māori liaison."

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta has stepped into the fray, saying she supported the call for local recruitment first.

"I've had a conversation with the police minister about the context of that comment, I've been assured that absolutely priority will be given to recruiting locally. Obviously we need to reflect our communities here in New Zealand and if we're going into a community policing model, it matters."

Mr Harawira said Aotearoa had two police forces - the mainstream one and the force of Māori liaisons who he worked with closely.

"Iwi liaison officers are going to know instantly who the whānau are, what the issues are, what might be a way of resolving the issues without it becoming a 'command, control, Taser, boys in black and a mask moving in'."

Ms Mahuta said she was confident the police minister was listening.

"So again, I'm reassured that the emphasis is on the domestic recruitment of police and where we can't make up the numbers of them to get out, that's where we might look at another recruitment strategy."

Ms Mahuta pointed to a successful police recruitment course being run through Te Wānanga o Aotearoa where 21 percent of applicants who applied for pre-police training in 2016 became police recruits, while just 8 percent of all applicants made it to the recruitment stage.

Ms Mahuta said she would be working alongside Mr Nash to support him in this area so that "he has his eye across the range of challenges around the high incarceration rates of Maori, the practices and cultural and behaviour of the police force and, importantly, ensuring policing is a valid pathway for a lot of our people, Māori and Pasifika included."

The New Zealand police website said 10.9 percent of constabulary employees were Māori, despite Māori making up 15 percent of the population and being over-represented in most areas of the justice system.

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