Contents 2 Introduction: a fair go for all? 5

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Responses to structural discrimination in the public service

Case study: New Zealand Police Ethnic Strategy Towards 2010

The Working Together with Ethnic Communities: the Police Ethnic Strategy Towards 2010 was published in December 2004. The strategy was one of the first dedicated ethnic strategies developed by a New Zealand government agency. To implement the strategy, the Police have increased recruitment of ethnic staff and initiatives that involved almost every area of Police business. The success of the strategy paid off in an emergency: after the devastating Canterbury earthquakes in February 2011, the Police were the only front-line public service organisation that had structures in place to deal with ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

After the earthquake, the Police used interpreters and liaison officers to assist engagement with grieving families and affected communities. Multilingual resources were developed to assist with the identification of foreign nationals who had died and to aid communication between coronial teams and the families of victims. The worst- affected areas were individually visited through a door-knocking campaign to reach out to Māori, Pacific, and Asian communities. The Police team in Canterbury included specialist Māori, Pacific, Asian and ethnic liaison and advisory staff.

Initiatives to implement the ethnic strategy included:

  1. Ethnic recruitment programmes and new recruitment, training and support policies. For example the Pre-College Employment programme, uniform policy and ethnic leadership programme.

  2. Resources to assist with understanding and communicating with ethnic communities. For example the multi-lingual phrasebook A Practical Reference to Religious Diversity and multi-lingual website.

  3. Enhanced service delivery through structured Ethnic training packages for Police staff, the establishment of Asian Safety Patrols, multilingual front counter staff and the Asian Council Against Reducing Crime.

  4. Engagement with ethnic communities by appointing specialist Ethnic Liaison Officers, Ethnic Advisory Boards, Memorandum of Understanding signings, sponsoring national programmes – Race Unity Speech Award and NZ Communities Football Cup.

As a result of the strategy and its initiatives, the number of ethnic staff employed by Police has doubled. There has been a decrease in crime associated with ethnic groups: handbag theft, for example, was down 80 per cent in Counties Manukau in 2010. There was also a slight shift in citizens’ satisfaction, increased from 72 per cent in 2008/2009 to 75 per cent in 2009/2010 in the NZ Police Citizens’ Satisfaction survey.

The Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ) acknowledged the New Zealand Police with an award for excellence in recognising ethnic diversity for their ethnic strategy. In their submission to IPANZ, Police referred to a quote from Earner Warren, former Chief Justice of the United States: “It is the spirit not the form of the law that keeps justice alive.” The submission said:

Although, the primary role of Police is governed by rules of law, we have a choice in how we choose to engage with communities and apply this law. The New Zealand Police have demonstrated that we have chosen to engage with ethnic communities in a very personal manner, developing relationships based on trust and confidence and providing our ethnic communities a tangible voice around our decision-making table.

As a frontline service we had to ensure that we are able to deal not only with our diverse communities at the present time but with a very diverse nation in the future. If the proper foundations and systems were not established we ran the risk of being out of touch with ethnic communities and emerging issues. We would be reacting to what was happening in society rather than having a successful framework in place for engagement, prevention and resolution.204

Factors for success

Based on the evaluation report, several key factors can be identified in what makes the Police Ethnic Strategy effective in being more aware and responsive to ethnic communities:

  1. The strategy had clear objectives which were discussed with staff and communities prior to implementation

  2. Recruitment of Police staff reflected the communities being served, with a focus on identifying specialist cultural skills

  3. Ethnic advisory boards represented ethnic communities in decision-making

  4. The Police worked collaboratively with ethnic communities and with other government agencies including the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Ministry of Social Development and Department of Labour


The strategy to 2010 established a platform for Police to engage with ethnic communities. Police are now developing a new ethnic strategy from 2011 to 2015 to build on the previous one.


Drawing on the preceding systemic analysis, we have drawn out the common elements between systems that contribute to the maintenance of structural discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origin. Turning to our case-studies, we offer up some common success factors, and make some final comments on the way forward in tackling structural discrimination.

Common elements: Structural discrimination across systems

In examining some manifestations of structural discrimination within government systems, the Commission encountered common elements that exist across the four systems. These are:

  • entrenched ethnic inequalities exist across systems. Although social and economic factors contribute to and exacerbate these inequalities, they alone do not cause inequalities between ethnic groups

  • structural discrimination has a cumulative effect within systems. The effects of structural discrimination at one stage in a system flow through to subsequent stages in the system. This can be seen in the criminal justice system, where bias in policing in turn affects the courts, or in education, where barriers in early childhood education contribute to lower levels of educational achievement at the compulsory or tertiary levels

  • even where culturally-aware and responsive policies are in place, practitioners may exhibit biased practice. Medical practitioners, teachers, police, judges or public sector management and officials may be unaware of bias in their practices, yet treat some people differently based on ethnicity

  • a policy focus on universal provision of public services, i.e. providing the same service to all irrespective of socio-economic status or ethnicity, assumes everyone has equal access to services and ignores barriers to accessing services

  • insufficient, patchy or poor-quality data collection on ethnicity shows a lack of commitment to addressing ethnic inequalities for particular population groups. Proper planning for reducing inequalities in each system depends on good-quality, standardised data that is comparable with the census, and births and deaths information

  • inaction is a form of structural discrimination. Where government services do not respond to the specific needs of ethnic groups, the absence of initiatives perpetuates barriers.
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