Wellington, New Zealand

New Zealand Police finds Engagement with Migrant Communities

New Zealand Police

April 20, 2011

Handbook to religious diversity helps police improve relations with minority groups

Can Sikhs legally carry ceremonial daggers? How do you comfort a Muslim woman? What days would a Hindu not attend court?

Over the past few years, the New Zealand police have made a concerted effort to foster a sense of inclusion and participation from the increasingly complex communities that comprise the population of New Zealand.

“It’s all about confidence and trust,” says Kefeng Chu, Strategic Ethnic Advisor, Police National Headquarters. “Police need to understand different religions and how they can affect daily interactions. We want the public to think, ‘police here do understand my culture and my religion’.”

Quick and reliable answers to hundreds of questions about religious protocols are answered in the police handbook ‘A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity’. The handbook’s second edition was launched by Commissioner Howard Broad and Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres in March 2009 as part of Race Relations Day celebrations.

Updated from the 2005 first edition, it contains overviews of seven religions (Maori spirituality, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism), plus information directly relevant to police interactions, such as issues around death, providing blood samples, attitudes to police dogs and how to approach sensitive matters. The 2009 edition also includes a New Zealand Statement on Religious Diversity from the Human Rights Commission.

How a handbook helps

An awareness of these issues can ease investigations, says Kefeng. For example, police should be aware that a Muslim family would expect to bury their kin as soon as possible after death, preferably within 24 hours.

“Police may not be able to agree to this, but showing understanding of their religious need and being willing to negotiate creates a sense of trust that helps everyone involved.”

He says, for example, the book helped a community constable answer a member of the public who queried whether a Sikh was allowed to walk around with a ceremonial knife (kirpan).

“The answer is yes, of course it’s legal. Police only need to get involved if it is used as a weapon, and I know of no case in the world where that has happened,” says Kefeng.

The guide has also been used for police training and Race Relations Commissioner, Joris de Bres reported at the launch of the 2009 edition that New Zealand participants in the Asia Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Cambodia in 2008 had specifically commended the guide and recommended that a similar guide be provided to other government department staff.

“While we live in a secular state in New Zealand, this does not mean public servants should be ignorant about the beliefs of the communities they serve. To deliver public services effectively, public servants need to understand their clients and gain their confidence,” he said.

Building upon success

NZ Police have a number of other complementary initiatives underway as well. For example, the police website is translatable into 11 languages and scripts as well as English, and includes a section dedicated to ethnic communities that explains communicating with police; personal rights; safety; and crime prevention. For telephone communication, police use a government-provided translation service called Language Line to provide interpretation for speakers of 39 different languages and Ethnic Liaison Officers are available in the Auckland region, Hamilton, Wellington, Palmerston North, Nelson, Napier and Christchurch. As well, a number of documents have been developed to enhance positive interactions with the growing migrant and ethnic communities including:

  • Working together with Ethnic Communities – Police Ethnic Strategy towards 2010 (2004)
  • Multilingual Phrase Book;
  • Bill of Rights Advice;
  • Judges Rules Caution translation; and
  • The Maori and Pacific Responsiveness Strategies.

The police are also the sponsor of the secondary schools’ Race Unity Speech Awards in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission and the Baha’i community, as well as ethnic football tournaments, New Zealand Communities Football Cup. They have established a Police Equity and Diversity Network at Police National Headquarters in Wellington and have made changes to their uniform code to accommodate Sikh headwear for Sikh police officers.

This collection of strategies and tools demonstrates in the clearest way the continuing commitment by Police to provide a good service to all people in the community and feedback from the community has been very positive.

Source: The New Zealand Police Online Magazine

Making it Work for You:

  • Communication is key to both crime prevention and resolution: Develop a range of communication options, including oral and written translations that are available in a variety of modes, including online as well as resources that provide reliable information on appropriate practice for both the public and police officers.
  • Raise the visibility of police in community settings - sponsor events that foster positive race relations among a range of population groups.
  • Strategies need to be backed up with practical tools and personnel to be successful -alter police practice to include members of diverse communities.
  • Communities evolve and change and successful policing needs to do the same. New thinking can be required to effectively get to know, build trust, understand, respect and work positively with migrant and ethnic communities. Evaluate and update resources and practice regularly.

For this Good Idea contact:

Rakesh Naidoo, Police National Headquarters, New Zealand Police
180 Molesworth Street
PO Box 3017
Wellington, New Zealand,