Commissioner: Police addressing bias in Maori relations

Saturday 28 Nov 2015 6:05 p.m.

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Police Commissioner Mike Bush has admitted the police force has been influenced by unconscious bias in their relations with Maori.

But he says police have recognised the problem and have made positive steps to address it.

"I think like any good organisation, you have to recognise that there can be some unconscious bias in your organisation. We've recently started some training with the executive, which will filter through the rest of the organisation, because the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it exists."

The candid comments caught The Nation's panellists by surprise.

"A rather extraordinary admission – that's the first time I've heard such a senior police officer say we have got an issue here," says Guyon Espiner.

But the numbers speak for themselves. Maori are involved in 46 percent of police apprehensions, more than 50 percent of police prosecutions, 60 percent of Youth Court appearances, and they make up more than 50 percent of our prison population.

"Our data, which we collected right from the start, showed that there was a disparity in the way we applied some of our discretion," says Mr Bush.

Despite acknowledging police have often come down harder on Maori, the commissioner denies racism, claiming the problem is being addressed.

"I can say, and it's really positive, since we started having those conversations, and talking about it, the dynamic has really changed. So we're getting far closer to that equality that should be there."

It's a brave time to be owning up to this issue. There have been plenty of news stories out of the United States in the past year about white police officers shooting unarmed black citizens.

Police in the US are now training their officers to eliminate bias, and their approach is the same to the New Zealand commissioner's.

In the UK, hundreds of police officers are also undertaking training and taking tests to reduce personal prejudice.

Mr Bush says a similar practice is happening here.

In 2007, the Bazley Commission of Inquiry criticised the way police dealt with women. They've gone a long way to eliminating that bias since then, and Mr Bush expects his force to make the same improvements for Maori.

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