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Team to examine police bias

A Wairarapa man is leading the charge in addressing police bias in New Zealand.
An independent panel chaired by Greytown resident Sir Kim Workman has taken a new step in understanding police bias towards marginalised communities.
Two research teams and a statistician have been appointed to work with the panel to examine police bias and continue the work of the multi-year policing research programme.
Wairarapa hasn’t been spared from biased policing, in December 2020 the Wairarapa Times-Age reported police unlawfully photographed young Wairarapa Maori.
The Times-Age reported in September that the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s joint inquiry found the unlawful practice widespread and racially biased.
It said systemic failures had led to police officers unlawfully capturing and storing the public’s biometric information for years and recommended an overhaul of police practices.
Of the thousands of images captured and stored on police databases, half were of Maori.
Workman said the colonisation of Aotearoa had a huge impact on the indigenous population.
“In Wairarapa, we saw that by the 1890s there was quite a difference, a lot of that stemmed around the fact that a lot of Maori were denied a full education.”
He said Maori were also denied access to health services, employment, and decent housing.
He said those systemic issues flowed into drug and alcohol use and mental health problems.
“When you get all those things happening in one whanau, then crime is more likely.”
Now, Workman has joined with academics, Maori and community leaders, and justice reform advocates offering a holistic range of views and perspectives on policing.
Workman said the focus of the newly appointed researchers was on systemic bias in policing.
“It’s about policies, practices, procedures, and legislation which have possibly been standard practice within the police … but may have contributed to bias within the justice system.”
He said his team had been assessing who the police stopped and talked to.
“There is an indication that Maori and Pacific people are more likely to be stopped and spoken to than others.
“We don’t have all the details of that yet, but the statistics
are a bit of a concern.”
Workman said his team were also looking into the use of force, and who was prosecuted and why.
He said it was recently discovered that when people in Christchurch were in possession of a small amount of cannabis and had the option between charging the person or giving a warning – Maori were three times more likely to be prosecuted than non-Maori.
He said researchers wanted to know how these biases were occurring and if the law was being applied properly.
Workman said the panel took a kaupapa Maori [Maori research] approach and explored other research opportunities to hear from those who had been marginalised.
Workman said that from the beginning of the programme, police established an operational advisory group led by counties Manukau east area commander and inspector Scott Gemmell.
He said the group has been supported by 29 officers from across the nation.
Workman said police involvement meant the panel could meet and discuss issues of systemic bias and the research regularly.
He said police had agreed to make any required changes as issues were identified.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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