15 Feb 2017

Police consider whether hate crime law needed

4:28 pm on 15 February 2017

The police are looking into whether specific legislation is needed to better deal with hate crimes.

Mike Bush, Police Commissioner. 2 February 2017.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police had to understand whether there was an increase in hate crimes, or an increase in coverage of incidents. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Police Commissioner Mike Bush told MPs at a parliamentary select committee hearing that he was concerned about a racial attack on a Muslim woman in Huntly at the weekend.

They were working with organisations to see if more could be done, Mr Bush said.

"We have crime categories at the moment that do apply but we're just working through the pros and cons of whether or not it would be the right thing to do to recommend a specific crime type."

Communities and the Human Rights Commission have been driving the call to have a specific hate crime legislation, Mr Bush said.

There had been an increase in certain crimes, but hate crimes were not specifically recorded as such, he said.

Police also had to be careful to understand whether there had actually been an increase in cases, or in coverage of incidents.

On Monday, Megan Walton, 27, pleaded guilty to assault following an attack in which she racially abused Muslim New Zealander Mehpara Khan. Ms Khan posted video of the incident on social media.

Walton was charged with assault and behaving in an insulting manner in a public place.

A screenshot of the video Mehpara Khan posted to Twitter.

A screenshot of the video Mehpara Khan posted to Twitter, with Megan Walton seen on the right. Photo: Supplied

However, the government said it did not see the need for a specific offence for hate crimes.

Police Minister Paula Bennett said she hadn't seen a rise in hate crimes and on the whole, people were more tolerable in New Zealand.

"Look, I just think let's be careful not to take a few individuals that have actually been called out and held to account for some pretty awful behaviour that is unacceptable - and then put it out [upon] the rest of the public."

But Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Women's Council argued there was a lack of data around hate crimes and that was exactly why a specific offence was needed.

"This is something that we've been lobbying for, for some while. Especially around recording the ethnicity of victims of crime to try and get some sense of what level of hate crime there is, who's been targeted, maybe even looking at geographical areas.

"At least if we can get a sense of the pattern, and where it's happening, we can then look at policies to try and deal with it," she said.