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Willie Jackson On Police Responsiveness To Maori

Speech notes

Improving Police Responsiveness to Maori

Speech by Willie Jackson,
Leader of Mana Motuhake and Alliance MP,
to National Police conference on Police responsiveness to Maori.

8 August 2001


Thank you for the invitation. I was very pleased that Clint Rickards and Tania Eden had asked me to be provocative. It certainly is an opportunity that I've thought about for a long time. So, I am pleased to be able to participate in this process and hope I can provide you with some insight from my own experiences.

I commend your efforts in taking up the challenge to improve the relationship between Maori and the Police. I'll say at the outset that I think you are on the right track with the programs I have read about so far, and also from the work I have seen Police doing in South Auckland.

I suppose if I was to give an honest view of Maori opinion of the police I would have to draw on my own history and experiences especially from my time in South Auckland. It would be fair to say that the majority of Maori in South Auckland perceived the police as racist. And that attitude is something that needs to be broken down.

Unfortunately I have vivid images of the police and the tactics they used there. As a security guard in South Auckland in the 1980s I witnessed first hand the unnecessary harassment from the police of our people. Maori seemed to be continually provoked, at times it seemed, for no reason. Police would walk into the pub and stare at people, intimidating locals who inevitably would react in a verbally abusive manner. The result being Maori spending the night with the police. In my view that was totally unnecessary.

One particular incident I will never forget was in 1986 at the St George pub, when the Police, for the first time, strip searched the pub. Now this was a pub with a terrible reputation. However, all the hard work had been done. Seven of us worked that bar that was frequented by many criminals, druggies, you name it, they were there. Over a period of months we straightened the bar out to a point where it had become far more relaxed and people were just enjoying themselves. So it was somewhat ironic that after all the hard work was done, the police decided to come in and bust the bar.

They humiliated people that night. People, mainly Maori were ordered in many cases to strip to their underwear. The police got 2 joints for their efforts. Now that was an experience that will never be erased from our people's minds. So it becomes near impossible for them to have any faith or trust in the police.

Now that was 1986. We come to the year 2000, and what's changed. Some would say nothing. In fact the family of Stephen Wallace would probably argue that police could never be trusted.

It is necessary, I believe to chart the progress, if there has been any, from that time in the 80's until the present.

Tragedy of Stephen Wallace, Waitara

I believe that much of the work on police responsiveness to Maori and investigating the causes of Maori crime has grown out of the death of Stephen Wallace and that has to be a positive response to a tragedy. While I am not here to argue about the details of that incident, I would like to share with you some of the conversations I had with Maori in Waitara. While everyone has a view, it might be interesting to see how some locals saw the incident.

Visit to Waitara after the shooting of Stephen Wallace

On my visit to Waitara I made sure I talked to the locals to see what they thought of the shooting. The people down there felt that the police had acted in a racial manner, even though the policeman who shot Steven was believed to have some Maori in him. But at the same time they still felt that the police were racist. I'm talking about Maori there. They said they murdered him.

Now that's not news to you. Maybe you don't agree with it. Maybe you have strong feelings on it. I don't know. I'm not looking to blame anyone here. I just want you to get a feel for how a community is thinking.

And then you hear the other side, well if he was a Pakeha it would be different. Now I don't know and I'm not here to make judgements on that, just to tell you what the views of the community were.

I tried to talk to both Maori and Pakeha when I was there. Pakeha also found that his killing was unacceptable and of course they're not talking about racism. They're just saying that it was unacceptable and that something else should've happened.

It was interesting to think, had our attitudes changed that much towards policemen? Maybe we haven't. The almost united view of people there, Maori or Pakeha, was that when it comes to the crunch the police would not fire the person who shot Steven Wallace. Again I'm not making judgement, I'm just trying to articulate the view of the community. Which brings me to the question of trust between Maori and the Police and how do you improve that trust.

Building trust between Maori and Police

It's good that the Police recognise the need to build trust with Maori. Peter Doone's report on preventing Maori crime says that in "1999 48% Maori have trust and confidence in the police, 61% of the general population. That's a gap of 13%, it was 22% in 1997. The levels of trust have risen in response to substantial Maori responsiveness initiatives, but there's still a lot to do."

One of the issues which came out of the Stephen Wallace tragedy is that no-one I spoke to, Maori, Pakeha or otherwise, expected the Police investigation by Police to come out with a conviction whether it was justified or not.

If you want to improve trust between Maori and Police you need to allow independent investigation of police complaints. Even if the Police Complaints Authority do the best job they can, it will still never be as well respected as the judgement of an independent investigation.

Of course, if you are sure Police have acted correctly, this should not be something to be concerned about. And an independent process would be able to gain the trust and respect of the public, which an internal process simply can't do. You may want to keep your own process as well. But it is the external assessment, which is important to build trust with the public.

Overrepresentation of Maori in the Justice system

Maori's lack of trust in the police is also partly because Maori are overrepresented at every level of the justice system. We know that being Maori doesn't make you a criminal. In Peter Doone's report into Maori Crime he makes it clear it is not being Maori that is the problem, but it is the problems Maori face, which increase the risk of being involved in crime.

Maori also know that in our everyday lives, as I said before, some Maori have felt they are targeted in pubs and on the street at night. Maori are over-represented at every stage of the Criminal Justice process. In 1998 they were 3.3 times more likely to be apprehended than non-Maori. We are 14% of the general population and 50% of the prison population. According to Peter Doone these gaps are widening not narrowing. When you combine the everyday experiences of Maori with these facts you see that it's easy for Maori to lose their trust in the justice system.

At the time of Stephen Wallace's death I discovered that 7 of the 19 people killed by police over the last 50 years were Maori. That's over a third, when Maori are about 14% of the population. It's clear that our Police are not trigger happy and it's clear that most of those people were armed and very dangerous. In some cases, it was their life or the life of a police officer.

I know too that 25 police officers have been killed in the last 50 years, some by unarmed men. No one can envy how Police feel under this sort of pressure. But my point is that when you're a Maori who's been hassled by Police in a pub and you hear these figures, it's pretty easy to think you're not getting a fair go in the justice system.

Reducing Maori crime

I have mentioned the report prepared by Peter Doone on preventing Maori crime. He doesn't see Maori as the problem. He recognises that it is the problems which many Maori face that are the problems we need to deal with. Things like poor support services for young parents, poor schooling, family problems, lack of resources, unemployment and poor communities.

There is a substantial body of consistent, contemporary research, internationally and in New Zealand, which identifies these risk factors in criminality. Many of these factors are common to poorer communities in general and specifically to people who feel their culture is not respected among their community. Some of the key issues are: * living in a poor, disorganised, neighbourhood with high rates of crime * lacking cultural pride and positive cultural identity * performing and attending school poorly * lacking vocational skills * misuse of drugs and alcohol

The best way to reduce any sort of crime, Maori or non-Maori, is to have a healthy community, where people can get jobs, education and health care. Where people interact and respect each other's cultures. Where people can participate and enjoy themselves with sport, music, art and cultural activities.

The solution must be an all encompassing one where communities are given the resources they need to become healthy communities. For people to act with respect for one another, they also need to feel they are respected themselves. Part of building respect is the ability to contribute and be acknowledged within your own community.

One of the key issues Peter Doone highlights is that the well being and respect of Maori culture in their own communities is essential to both Maori and the health of the entire community.

Participating and belonging is key. The programs mentioned in Peter Doone's report speak of Maori involvement in the decision making processes. This is essential as our experience and ideas will need to be incorporated into any programs that are going to work, and it is even better if Maori can take the lead of these programs. Programs to build trust between Maori and the Police and to reduce crime must do the following things to be successful: * use Maori cultural values, build cultural knowledge, self image and pride as Maori * create a sense of identity, belonging and confidence * break down barriers to learning and give a sense of achievement * enhance willingness to learn new skills * build positive attitudes towards program providers, whanau and wider society.

Research shows that programs of this kind do reduce the risk factors associated with criminality. The Doone report states that reduction in offending after these programs ranges from 35% to 94%.

The whole justice system needs to be addressed to improve Maori's trust in it. A Te Puni Kokiri and Ministry of Justice study found Maori were being alienated in the justice system by a series of problems: * the court system was meaningless to Maori * Maori were getting poor quality legal advice * the prosecution practises for Maori differ from that of non-Maori * Lawyers, court staff and the judiciary were found to act in a culturally inappropriate way * there was inappropriate sentencing of Maori offenders * imprisonment often proved ineffective.

Part of the problem is that often Maori don't feel this system represents them. It is not just the Police that need to be responsive to Maori, but the whole justice system. And in the same way, to reduce crime and criminality, the whole community needs to be involved.

Restorative justice works

The Minister of Corrections, Alliance MP Matt Robson has recently published the About Time report on turning people away from a life and crime and reoffending. It clearly recognises the joint affects of personal and cultural issues on a community and crime prevention. What the report on Maori crime and the About Time reports have in common is they show that restorative justice involving the whole community is the best way to reduce crime and keep our people safe. Restorative justice is both a key Alliance and Mana Motuhake principle and a key Maori principle.

The Alliance Justice policy says most of the root causes of crime can be dealt with effectively only by a co-operative society which implements social and economic policies dedicated to achieving full employment; which provides equal access for all to health services and education; which encourages the proper self-esteem of every individual.

As part of an effective strategy of dealing with the root causes of crime an Alliance government would introduce wherever appropriate, a system of restorative justice in sentencing to run parallel to the retributive system of justice that already exists but which has failed to adequately bring down rates of crime. Under restorative justice the offender has to acknowledge the harm of his/her offending in relation to the victim and restoration of the victim becomes a central aim of the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation of the offender is also key.

Alliance work on Maori crime and Maori development

As part of the government the Alliance is working hard on crime reduction policies. Matt Robson as Minister of Corrections and Minister of Courts is looking into the problems we've raised and starting to develop the programs which have come out of the About Time report. The Ministry of Corrections runs some very good programs for Maori both inside our prisons and on the outside with probation workers.

Jim Anderton as Minister of Economic Development is getting communities up and running again with investment, jobs and skills training schemes.

Jobs are essential to reducing crime. The Police in Dannevirke only attended 28 burglaries since June last year. That's down from 298 in 1998. The major contributing factor has been the halving of the unemployment rate in the area. Mana Motuhake and the Alliance are very pleased about this because we believe that when people have jobs, the whole community benefits in all sorts of ways.

The Alliance is also keen to make sure that Police have the resources needed to do this work well and that all relevant government agencies work together with the Police to prevent crime and protect our communities.

Key issues to improve Police responsiveness to Maori

Improving the Police responsiveness to Maori is a job that's well worth doing. I want to offer three key things, which would improve the relationship between Maori and Police and reduce Maori crime.

Step one is about building trust: One of the first steps needed is to build confidence in justice processes and the most important thing here is that the Police should be happy for independent investigations of complaints. Because Police hold such a large amount of power in the community, it is essential that complaints are handled independently.

Therefore, I believe we need to support an independent Police Complaints Authority.

Step two is about building respect: I used to think that increasing the number of Maori officers in the force would be useless. That they would be consumed by Police culture and lose their own. It was my view that Maori Police were always put in very compromising positions by their superiors. Maori police were used on the front line of protests like the 1981 Springbok Tour, Bastion Point and other protests. And were used, in my view, by the Police authorities. Constantly they were faced with the dilemma of what they were first and foremost: a policeman or a Maori which in the end proved impossible for many. Surely the answer is that they could be both a good policeman and someone who is strong in their culture and surely the challenge now is that that balance is found.

Over the years though, I have realised that to gain effective change, you have to infiltrate the system. And so now I believe it is imperative that Maori join the police force and hopefully attain managerial positions.

If Maori officers are able to bring their culture into the Police force, have it respected and act as a Maori Police officer, then they can play a key role in improving the relationship between Maori in the community and the Police.

Seeing more Maori in the Police force will help build Maori respect for the Police and help the general Police force become more understanding of Maori culture and consider alternative ways of doing things.

Step three is about building an effective justice system: Maori support restorative justice and have embraced the concept. It is a system which has shown itself to be effective. New Zealand locks up a lot of people who only end up back in the system. Many of these people aren't violent offenders who we need to keep out of society, they are people who need the skills to sort out their lives and get a reliable job in a supportive community that will keep them on the right track.

Implementing restorative justice and community crime prevention programs will work. Those programs which have been shown to work need to be set up around the country: like the program in Dannevirke which coordinates agencies like Child, Youth and Family and the Department of Work and Income to support early intervention; like the Maori based community programs supported in Doone's report on Combating and Preventing Maori Crime and Matt Robson's About Time report.

The Justice system needs to sort itself out. Different prosecution practises for Maori need to be addressed, inappropriate behaviour in the court system needs to be addressed. Maori need access to decent legal advice.

I believe if you can take up these challenges then not only will you improve Police responsiveness to Maori, but you will reduce crime and gain the respect of the entire community.


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