Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

Age is an influential factor in the perceptions of Police. International literature has found ethnic minority youth often hold negative perceptions regarding police in host countries.23 There is some indication of this emerging among groups of ethnic minority youth in New Zealand.24 Nakhid’s (2017) study identified negative perceptions of New Zealand Police were present among African youths, and Ho et al, maintain that youth of Vietnamese backgrounds were reluctant to report crimes to police due to a percep­tion that Police could not keep them safe from retribution.25

Negative perceptions of the New Zealand Police found by Ho et al, were due to feelings of prejudice and bias, insensitivity and a failure to listen.26 Dissatisfaction related to the response and resolution of crime, a general lack of contact and visibility of police in the community, and a particular focus on traffic policing.27 Concerns have been raised regarding a lack of cultural understanding and training, in the New Zealand Police, as well as government services generally.28 Participants were not aware of the specific sup­port police offered for those of different ethnicities, such as Ethnic Liaison Officers.29 Whether this signals a lack of numbers, information or visibility of these officers within communities is worth further exploration. This demonstrates how an individuals’ per­sonal experiences can influence generalisations across services, and potentially how language and accessibility barriers contribute to alienation of minority groups.30

Community Policing Research

While New Zealand research is lacking, overseas research ably debates the opportuni­ties and challenges for Community Policing operators to build effective relationships with refugees and ethnic minorities to support positive integration experiences. Signifi­cantly, it has been observed that police management need to demonstrate more than ‘intellectual commitment’ to ensure success and address gaps in implementation.31 Canada, is an example of a state supportive of multiculturalism, with an intake of Syrian refugees in the thousands, which has had both successes and failures in its Community Policing approach. Early efforts resulted in the over-policing of immigrants, and mili­tarised strategies.32 Current practices are criticised due to an inability to recognise the impact that the power imbalance has in reinforcing cultural inequality,33 assumptions that utilising officers of colour alone is sufficient, failure to incorporate civilian repre­sentation, and consultative fatigue.34

Mastrofski (2019) argues that well implemented Community Policing is hard to achieve, and even mixed results are noteworthy.35 Police reforms in Toronto and Ottawa have both utilised minority group input in construction of policy and implementation to address concerns regarding over and under-policing of minority groups.36 Community policing can increase public support of police, improve police effectiveness, and contribute to positive rebuilding of vulnerable neighbourhoods.37