Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

Perceptions of Community Police

Refugee support workers all believed that the Syrian refugee community lacked knowl­edge about Community Police and how they were any different from normal Police officers. Community policing is not understood from home and transition country experiences. Participant Two suggested the homogeny in uniform of the New Zealand Police made it difficult to perceive the differences in Police roles. The presence of Police in schools was known but not specifically as a Community Policing role. Even the refu­gee support workers from migrant backgrounds had difficulty recognising this.

Visibility by Community Police, and publicity within the community will create opportunities for engagement. Non-crime contact by Police can positively impact on relationships by increasing accessibility to hear concerns. Participants felt that meaningful consultation and efforts to understand their views showed Police cared about them. Participant Three identified the need for a professional and unbiased police service that supports and values diversity in order to maintain policing by consent:

The community will listen as much as they believe you are uncorrupted, unbiased, no different racism or discrimination happening, and that you understand their diversity. The more you have that, the more you will have people that will obey you without the need for having a police offi­cer in front of everyone’s house.

Given the traumatic and damaging authority experiences that refugees may have had, Syrian refugees can take significantly longer to feel the same confidence in the New Zealand Police than many other migrants.

Community policing involvement in the initial resettlement of refugees may improve engagement and integration experiences. Follow up in English Language classes could provide access to refugees to build initial relationships, support better availability and opportunity to educate about police services. This could also provide a platform to share written information in different languages.

Meaningful Consultation

Specific considerations for relationship development were identified. Meaningful con­sultation was essential to ensuring the needs of the Syrian community were understood and addressed. Participant Five considered that Police and ethnic communities will often have very different ideas regarding what is a problem. Failure to listen can result in wasted effort and resources. A case in point relates to Fitzgerald’s identification of the disconnection between initiatives desired by Syrian refugees compared to those pro­vided by support services.60 It may be possible to negotiate outcomes that support the aims and desires of both the Syrian refugee community and New Zealand Police.