Racism in police poll: 72 pct of Māori say police are racist in some way

More than 70 percent of Māori believe there's racism in the police, and the man heading the push to fix it believes change will take generations.

The Hui commissioned an exclusive Horizon Research poll to ask Māori about their experiences with police, because in almost every police statistic, Māori are over-represented.

The poll showed that 72 percent of Māori surveyed believed police were racist in some way, and 37 percent said they or a close whānau member had personally experienced police racism within the past five years.

Just 4 percent believe all police are racist, but 28 percent believe there is institutional, systemic racism within the force and a further 40 percent say some individual officers are racist.

Racism in police poll: 72 pct of Māori say police are racist in some way
Photo credit: The Hui

Criminal justice campaigner Tā Kim Workman is heading an independent panel of community leaders and academics looking at bias within New Zealand Police.

Asked when Māori perceptions of police will change, Tā Kim told The Hui "it will take generations".

But he said it had been uplifting to witness police having difficult discussions among themselves and some improvements could come more swiftly.

"If we find areas that we can change now, we'll do it now. Things like police stops and deciding who's going to get charged and who's not, the way we use force and make decisions about using force. If we can make improvements in those areas it will benefit everybody."

Justice advocate Julia Whaipooti said whānau had been speaking up about police racism for longer than she's been alive

Inspector Scott Gemmell - who works closely with Tā Kim's panel - pointed to changes in police recruitment. The most recent intake had 28 Māori out of 70 recruits, 22 of whom were wāhine Māori. 

"Just five years ago, we had 22 Māori in the whole recruitment year."

He said police were dealing with people struggling with really complex issues.

"Unfortunately we get the 111 call when they are probably on their worst day, but what we can do is find outcomes that will be better for them. And if that means looking at our bias, then let's do it." 

More than half of Māori surveyed - 55 percent - lacked confidence that the justice system overall performs fairly for Māori. Whaipooti said that should not come as a surprise to Māori or police.

Racism in police poll: 72 pct of Māori say police are racist in some way
Photo credit: The Hui

"There are some parts of our community that can [never] and will never trust the police."

Whaipooti said the role of the police is expanding dramatically, including dealing with people with mental health and issues with alcohol and drugs. 

"It doesn't have to be police and it shouldn't have to be," she said.

"Some of the role of the police, Corrections, and OT [Oranga Tamariki] needs to shift back to our own hapori and community. They are funded billions of dollars. Let's re-allocate that back to our whānau, our communities who can be that support for our whānau."

Waikato-Tainui academic Rahui Papa agreed, saying sometimes government agencies like police just need to get out of the way and let whānau and iwi do it for themselves.

Inspector Gemmell, who heads the police operations unit and is area commander for Counties Manukau east, told The Hui he was encouraged by work done by communities and hapori.

Police were prepared to open up their policies, practices, training, and procedures to find the most equitable service possible, he said.

Racism in police poll: 72 pct of Māori say police are racist in some way
Photo credit: The Hui

"I think we are at a turning point for us now where we can push forward and make some changes."

Despite the high numbers of Māori who believed police were racist and who lacked confidence the justice system was fair, 82 percent of Māori valued the work of the police.

Horizon Poll sample of 502 Māori aged 18 years or older. Maximum margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent.

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.