Review suggests police more likely to harm non-Pākehā

People who are not Pākehā appear more likely to be harmed by police, according to early findings into the largest investigation into police bias in New Zealand.

The independent review, The Understanding Policing Delivery Project, began in March last year, after police were scrutinised for photographing innocent young Māori.

Among three teenagers photographed by by police in Masterton, despite not having committed any crime, was the nephew of Te Tiriti educator John James Carberry.

"This was potentially one of the first encounters that my nephew was to have with police," he said.

"It was an encounter that was in breach of his rights, it was disturbing, and it further angered me that he wasn't the only one."

READ MORE: Police set new rules after young Māori unlawfully photographed

The issue of bias is something police recognise could be a systemic problem.

Sir Kim Workman, the lead panellist overseeing the work, said it was encouraging to see police willing to take part.

"I think this is probably the only government agency that's gone as far as it has to address these issues," he said.

"Twenty years ago, you couldn't talk to police about colonialism. They'd say 'that's just an excuse', rather than an explanation. Today, I think they understand much more deeply.

"The struggle now is to introduce Māori ways of thinking and doing in a way that people are comfortable with."

Fifteen months into the investigation, a literature report has found police have inherited a legacy of Eurocentrism and white supremacy that can lead to Māori being over-represented in the criminal justice system.

It also found police are uncomfortable with labelling issues as racist, and this could be allowing racist behaviours to go unaddressed.

"Throughout polices' own analysis of various white extremist groups that have targeted ethnic communities, bias, racism, unfairness and inequities are not directly named and in doing so, disassociates Pākehā from being complicit in upholding white supremacy," the report reads.

"Through the inability to acknowledge racism and white supremacy for what it is, the hetero-patriarchal Pākehā as the idealised social archetype is continually reinforced. This continues the cycle of inequities and can exacerbate views that the New Zealand Police are biased."

But Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said there was still not enough evidence to indicate bias existed in the system.

"I can't accept that in this moment in time. I can observe what the statistics look like from the criminal justice system, but the piece that we can't explain, and what we need to be able to explain, is what is polices' contribution to fair and equitable policing? Is it where it needs to be and if not what needs to be done?" he said.

Coster said police are committed to working alongside a "very credible independent panel" to "understand the issue and hopefully find a common understanding so that we can get past reports that don't actually affect the change people are asking for".

Researchers will now begin observing police on the ground, recording who they stop and how they interact with them, when and why the use force and how decisions about laying charges are made.

It's hoped that if bias is found, police will act.

"I have told the commissioner that the last thing I want is another report that sits on his shelf and gathers dust," Workman said.

Carberry said he welcomed the review, which he called "long overdue".

"I can't speak for everyone who is not Pākehā, but from a Māori perspective, the relationship between the New Zealand police and the criminal justice system in general and that of Māori has a context," he said.

"If we look at other settler colonial nations such as Australia, such as Canada, such as the United States, one of the characteristics that these nations all have is that they disproportionately incarcerate their indigenous populations.

"I hope that there will be institutional change, and that Māori youth and Māori citizens in general will be able to walk down the street and not be treated in a discriminatory manner."