Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

Kate et al argue that many of New Zealand’s conflict resolution organisations are mono-cultural, and not necessarily suitable or understood by many refugee communities.13 Communication issues, service access and a lack of interpreters caused conflict. Police involvement stalled the ability to utilise traditional cultural ways of conflict resolution, therefore Ethnic Liaison Officers were used as a last resort.14 New Zealand justice initiatives incorporating indigenous perspectives were emerging, but were yet to recognise the value of refugee community methods.15 Information about services specific to Refugee needs, earlier intervention, greater cultural awareness and refugee-specific training of government services was necessary.16 Community policing recommendations included increases of Ethnic Liaison Officers and ethnic youth programs supporting integration through self-esteem.17 It is worth exploring whether there are regional differences in these findings, and opportunities for Community Policing beyond these recommendations.

Jaegar and Vitalis (2005) studied the ethnic diversity of officers in the New Zealand Police, identifying that officers recognised greater responsiveness was needed by the organisation to meet the requirements of ethnic communities. They argue that policing in a multicultural society demanded greater discretion and flexibility for individual officers regarding decision-making.18 Additionally, they contended that addressing communities’ security and policing concerns supported harmonious Police-community relationships.19 Community Police officer perceptions may provide a more in depth understanding of the current environment, the use of alternative resolutions and the challenges facing refugee communities.

Ethnic Perceptions of the New Zealand Police

Research exploring the perceptions of ethnic groups about the New Zealand Police is limited although two studies provide some relevance. Ho, Cooper and Rauschmayer (2006) looked at various ethnicities’ perceptions of the New Zealand Police, and Nisar (2013) specifically looked at South Asian perceptions. Challenges with speaking English, reporting incidents and accessing services were described as major barriers for minority groups.20 Even with English proficiency, communication with police was still described as a problem in need of improvement due to misunderstandings and a lack of refugee specific knowledge.21 Ho et al, assert that negative pre-migration experiences influenced some migrants and refugees to fear police in New Zealand, and were unable to obtain participation in their study from some members of refugee communities, particularly Middle Eastern due to this reason.22 These findings warrant a deeper look at how the New Zealand Police are perceived among ethnic communities, and to what extent Community Police, utilising non-crime opportunities, have influenced this perception.