Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

Author: Tohill, Yvette
Published in National Security Journal, 08 March 2021

Sport was described as a positive avenue for the integration of youth across most participants and also emphasised in a youth report produced by New Zea­land Refugee Resettlement Services in 2014.56 The opportunities for the involvement of Community Policing Services in this area are numerous.

Perception of New Zealand Police

Refugee support workers all believed that the Syrian refugee community viewed the New Zealand Police as the traditional “Crime Fighter” who conducts policing through arrests.57 Words such as “enforcement” and “law and order” were used to describe the role, with expectations that offenders would end up in jail. A lack of resolution, or delays in Police responses were thought to contribute to feelings of frustration, a perceived lack of care or low expectations and reduce the willingness to call again. Similar findings by Ho et al58 reinforce the notion that refugees and other ethnic minorities need to feel listened to, and that taking time to explain how and why, may mitigate negative impressions. Positive experiences with Police related to officer friendliness, and the response in the aftermath of the Christchurch Mosque Tragedy.

The perception of the Police as merely an enforcement service is potentially damaging, if police responses are not meeting expectations. Participant Two described the rela­tionship between safety and trust in the following way:

This is also had a little bit of, not feeling faith in the Police protection system, and how they can feel safe. It’s very related. If you are not feeling safe, then you will blame the Police, and if you do not trust the Police, then you will not feel safe. It’s kind of like a circle of feedback.

This reference highlights the importance of education regarding systems and processes. Managing expectations from the outset will reduce misunderstandings and the erosion of trust from this community. Furthermore, encouraging greater ownership by individ­uals, emphasises the responsibility of both the Police and the community for creating safety in neighbourhoods.59

The perception of the Police as a “tool” for justice could inhibit relationship building with the community and true collaboration. Many participants remarked on the need for Police to be seen as human. Exposure to Police out of uniform, the engagement of officers in community groups and activities were described as important for building personal connections which allow the public to see beyond the uniform. This signals an opportunity for greater involvement of Community Police to participate in activities that fit within their role and address these issues.