Promises of more police are not for Māori voters

National is promising 880 new police. Labour is promising 1,000 new police. New Zealand First is promising a whopping 1,800 new police.

Clearly our political parties have decided law and order is going to be front and centre in the election campaign and want to be seen to be tough on crime and keeping communities safe. The spate of reports about burglaries going uninvestigated and communities living in fear has been the fuel for this particular bonfire.

The response of the Police union and Pākehā communities has been overwhelming positive to the news, though Pākehā who have been interviewed have warned political parties that they better not be employing more traffic cops. It would be unjust if older Pākehā men speeding on our roads whilst over the limit were swept up in this brave new world of arrests and prosecutions. The police should be focusing on crimes, not birthrights.

At this stage there has been no polling done on this specific policy in Māori communities, and to be honest it is unlikely to be done. But I suspect historical polling and surveying would be borne out: Māori communities do not put law and order as a top priority for Parliament and are not enthusiastic about having more police officers.

At a cursory glance, that belies the studied needs of many Māori communities. Māori communities and specifically Māori women are more likely than others to be victims of crime. Many Māori communities are also geographically isolated, so the complaints of lack of service from the Police are often a heightened concern there. But of course that’s not the whole story.

Historically the Armed Constabulary (the original NZ Police) was at the forefront of the invasion of sovereign tribes and carried out atrocities throughout our country. That legacy remains with us today and the reputation is enforced through the periodic injustices that have occurred, for example the October 15 2007 raids on Ruatoki.

But my experience in our little community is that these instances are on the edges of people’s consciousness, a mythology of injustice that puts a tint on every police shooting or violent arrest. The day-to-day reason many Māori will not be enthusiastic about more Police is a bit closer to home.

Māori are more likely to be arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned than people of other ethnicities who commit the same offences. The systemic oppression over the last 150 years underlies that fact and it is complex, but the day to day impact is simple: in my whānau, hapū and iwi, most of us will know a relative, friend or whānau member who was or is in the courts or in prison. If you are Pākehā in a reasonably affluent community, the chances are you  would struggle to think of the name of someone you know in the same situation. Necessarily then, when I and many Māori voters think of criminals, we think of real flesh and blood people we know and care about; the Pākehā voting public thinks of criminals as the threatening stranger.

The Police are well-intentioned, skilled, and community oriented and amongst the best in the world at their job. They are also arresting people that I care about. This is my reality and that of most of my Māori relatives and friends. It’s as simple as that if we want to understand why the promise of more Police from our political parties is likely to be treated with, at best, ambivalence in Māori communities and by Māori voters. I guarantee that Māori voters want to be safe but sometimes it doesn’t feel like the Police are part of that for us.