Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

New Zealand Community Police Perceptions

Community Police participants were passionate and engaged in the work they did. However they identified a serious need for cultural training and refugee background knowledge. Participant Six explained that this would assist in understanding why they may have behaved in a certain way and ensure the right support. Across all Police participants it was maintained that any knowledge gained was currently self-sourced, signaling a significant gap in their needs.

Participants did identify that cultural understanding of Maori and some Pacific cul­tures was provided but they were not aware of anything supporting other ethnicities. Not only was lack of cultural training acknowledged, but also a noteworthy lack of formal training for Community Policing. This absence has been previously identified in research by Heyer in his exploration of the role of New Zealand Police Cultural Li­aison Officers.67 Reasons identified for the gap were the changing managerial staff, a lack of skilled practitioners for delivery, competing resources, and failure to prioritise Community Policing. Training gaps can lead to inconsistencies in the delivery of Com­munity Policing services, creating differences between expectations and delivery.

The different Community Policing roles had connection but would be enhanced by more combined approaches. The singular position of Ethnic Liaison Officer for Wel­lington District Police revealed a difficulty in realistic support of all ethnic communi­ties with the exception of Maori and Pacific people who had specific liaison officers. Partnerships were strategic and support for individual and community issues necessi­tated a consultative role. As New Zealand’s refugee and migrant population grow, so too does the potential demand on this position. The development of local area Police champions was proposed as a stop-gap, to maintain an Ethnic Liaison portfolio for different communities, with support and some training provided by Maori, Pacific and Ethnic Services. While this idea had been promoted to local policing areas, it was not yet supported.

Police participants all described Community Policing in terms of building trust and confidence, with a geographic-based responsibility for relationship building and prob­lem solving seen as the traditional concept of Community Policing. Time in the role was seen as beneficial to supporting communities. Self-direction, discretion to utilise alternative ways of resolving issues, and a holistic approach were essential to the vari­ous roles in Community Policing. Community Policing support to the Syrian refugee community had strong themes relating to education, follow up support during or after front line police attendance, facilitating integration, and relationship building charac­terised by consistency, genuineness and listening. Participant Five observed that im­provements to ethnic or refugee community relationships in each area were often down to individual officers taking initiative.