Looking back to go forward

NZPA - Ellen Brook | Sun July 1st, 2018

Police has a goal of a 25 per cent reduction in reoffending by Māori by 2025. Police executive adviser Simone Bull is putting the target in a historical context.

Simone BullPolice executive adviser Simone Bull created the Wall Walk as a low-tech and accessible way to understand Māori involvement in the criminal justice system over the past 170 years. Photo: ELLEN BROOK

A lot of people in Police have been thinking deeply about Māori issues for a long time, says Simone Bull, and she is one of them.

“It’s been happening at least since the mid-1990s when Police set up the iwi liaison officers roles,” she says.

But, despite the ponderings, the last comprehensive research into Māori and crime, done by Moana Jackson in 1988 for the Ministry of Justice, is only being updated for the first time this year.

Regardless of the good intentions, the current reoffending rate for Māori is about 59 per cent, so there’s a way to go to reach the reduction target by 2025.

Simone, who has a doctorate in criminology, first liaised with Police in 2006 as part of a joint initiative with Te Puni Kōkiri, working on preventing crime and crash in Māori communities.

She completed postgraduate study at Victoria University focused on matching official statistics about Māori in the criminal justice system from the 1850s to the 2000s with historical accounts of the relationship between Māori and the state. For her, it proved to be not a conclusion, but a beginning.

“I have learnt more since I finished the PhD. As part of that process, I spent about seven years thinking deeply about Māori. Now, 20 years later, I am thinking even more deeply about Māori in the criminal justice system and how I can share what I have learnt with the rest of the organisation.”

Simone is one of a small group of expert advisers to the Police executive and in the past year has been looking into strategies for the Our Business target of reducing Māori reoffending.

She doesn’t just have a professional interest. It’s personal too. Simone has Māori heritage on her mother’s side, Ngati Porou, and English heritage on her father’s side. Although not fluent in Māori, she has a useful working knowledge of te reo.

Last year, she created the Wall Walk – a historical timeline, made up of six charts, that looks at 170 years of Māori involvement in the criminal justice system.

“I am not an academic historian, but we have longitudinal crime data that parallels events that a swath of historians use when talking about Māori history, and which helps us to understand how Māori have come to be represented in the criminal justice system.”

Her first audience for the Wall Walk last year was a group of district commanders, most of whom told her that most of the information was new to them.

Since then, Simone has presented the Wall Walk more than 20 times at the request of various work groups and district leadership teams, including the executive, service centres and the Police College.

The presentation is deliberately low tech, with the look and feel of a school social studies project – images and hand-written text on six, A1-sized sheets of white paper. “I can’t do 170 years of history in a PowerPoint presentation because that can’t be seen as one continuous timeline. This way, we can refer backward and forward as we go along.”

The sessions take about three hours and are with smallish groups. Before she does her presentations, Simone picks a selection of topics covered in the timeline and gets various members of the work groups to research those topics for themselves.

“Yes, it has audience participation. I don’t want people to take my word for everything, I want them to do some research themselves.”

There is usually a lot of discussion and the set topics range through Parihaka, Rua Kenana, Māori and the vote, the Wairau Affray, the Dog Tax War, urbanisation and “pepper-potting”, children taken into state care, the Haka Party Incident and Bastion Point.

This unpacking of the relationship between Māori and the criminal justice system can be confronting, particularly when policing history is intrinsically entwined with many of those events.

Some find it challenging, but Simone says: “It’s not about making people feel guilty. It’s about our collective history, so much of which we all missed in high school. We want to help more people in Police think more deeply about these issues. They may grumble about doing the ‘homework’, but as soon as they realise why they’ve been asked to do it, they get into it.”

And not everything in the presentations comes from the history books, either. “Staff share their own anecdotes from various events, such as Bastion Point.”

The Wall Walk begins in 1853, when official crime statistics started being broke down by ethnicity and published annually. For some decades afterwards, Māori representation in the criminal justice system was virtually non-existent. That changed after police were used to enforce laws that have not stood the test of time.

The charts break up the timeline into headings of “Under-representation”, “Raupatu” (the confiscation of Māori land), “Ongoing Resistance”, “Mass Urbanisation”, “Renaissance” and “Amplification”.

So how does it link to reducing reoffending?

“It helps staff understand why having a focus on Māori is a good idea. At the beginning of the Wall Walk, we talk about incarceration rates in New Zealand being too high. In the Global Peace Index, New Zealand scores badly on incarceration – roughly 125 non-Māori per 100,000 are jailed each year, compared with roughly 700 Māori per 100,000.

“Districts are already looking at ways of dealing with first-time offenders in ways that reduce their likelihood of reoffending, especially Māori. Prosecution of low-level, first-time offenders should be a last resort because it’s been shown to be the least effective in terms of steering people away from crime.

“Let’s not wait till people are entrenched in the system. Let’s act as soon as they come to our attention,” she says. “Road policing is the biggest source of entry into the justice system. The smart thing to do is look at the bigger issues, for example, helping someone get their driver’s licence. Plus, we know that pre-charge warnings work. along with iwi justice panels for first-time offenders for non-serious offences.”

If Police is to make a meaningful contribution to the 25 per cent target (which is a sector target), a focus on Māori issues is needed from the entire organisation, Simone says. It’s certainly not lacking at the executive level, but she believes the messages are yet to filter through to the frontline, although districts have “picked up the mantle”.

Māori issues are already woven into Police’s family harm training and fit in with Prevention First initiatives.

The next phase of Simone’s Wall Walk project is to reach more work groups and, with support from Police’s Māori, Pacific and Ethnic Services and the Office of Treaty Settlements, she is hoping to turn it into a package that is not reliant on her delivering it.

– ELLEN BROOK

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