A new report on police responses to hate crimes has found most officers have no training in handling the issue and says there is room for improvement, Marc Daalder reports

Only three in 10 police staff interviewed as part of an internal review of responding to hate crime said they had received training in identifying or handling hate incidents.

The review, which also canvassed the views of members of affected communities, has prompted the agency to consider next steps in improving its response to these events.

“Police are focused on improving the systems we currently have in place, and identifying the changes we can make now that will have the greatest impact and real improvements for victims of hate crime,” Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha said in a statement.

“Police have also implemented a number of improvements including changes to the way we record hate crimes, and delivery of our first round of staff training so they can properly identify an incident as a hate crime.”

The review was commissioned from the Evidence-Based Policing Centre’s Service Design team and involved 18 workshops across the country.

In addition to the lack of training, the report said 44 percent of staff were confident they could recognise a hate crime or hate incident and another 53 percent were somewhat confident. Recognising one is only the first step, however, and many police felt constrained by the lack of a legislative framework around hatred.

“Due to the fine line between freedom of speech and hate speech, and there being no New Zealand legislation around hate crime, police participants felt New Zealand Police needs a clear definition in legislation or from the courts describing what meets the ‘hate crime’ threshold, and both New Zealand Police and the courts need to understand and apply that definition consistently,” the report found.

“I thought when I joined police everything would be black and white, good guys and bad guys. But we work in the grey, which is where hate crime sits,” one staff member told the reviewers.

The report distinguished between hate crimes – incidents where a crime has been committed with a hateful motivation – and hate incidents, where no crime has been committed but an event has occurred with a hateful motivation. But the blurred lines between the two have left affected communities feeling like police won’t take reports seriously, the reviewers found.

“There was a strong consensus amongst community participants that it is futile to report a hate crime, especially to police. Community participants said their communities have a lack of confidence in the process of reporting a hate crime. They felt there’s no point reporting because nothing will happen and there will be no response. They also said some feel the responses they receive from police are not genuine and they are just ticking boxes.”

The majority of police staff who participated in workshops as part of the review were not aware of the main legal provision regarding hate crimes: Section 9(1)(h) of the Sentencing Act. This provision says courts should consider being motivated by hate as an aggravating factor when sentencing an offender.

“During the police workshops, we noticed that there was a lack of understanding of New Zealand Police’s current policies and processes relating to hate crime. The majority of participants did not have a clear understanding of how to apply section 9(1)(h),” the reviewers noted.

Reforming hate crime legislation in New Zealand was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 terrorist attack. The commission advised the Government to amend the Summary Offences Act and the Crimes Act to allow people to be charged with “hate-motivated” offences, which would align New Zealand’s framework with that of the United Kingdom.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi told Newsroom in April that hate crime reform wasn’t a priority.

“That is a piece of work that we’re committed to. It’s a longer-term piece of work. We want to make sure that we engage with the wider community and, importantly, across political parties for that kind of work too,” he said at the time.

Alongside reforms to legislation, the report also raised the possibility of a dedicated unit within police to handle hate crimes. This could alleviate concerns over lack of training or resource.

Even police staff acknowledged that the service was failing to support victims of hate incidents in feeling safe.

“The expectation is that we would make them feel safe, but instead we send them a letter and send them on their way,” one staff member said.

“We don’t do a good job because we have so much BAU. We don’t make time to follow up and talk one-on-one,” another reported.

The report found that “some participants from the community workshops said their communities have almost lost all trust and confidence in police as the amount of hate crime they experience continues to rise”.

Police themselves are also the target of hate crime, according to the report. More than a third of staff interviewed said they had experienced a hate crime while working, though only half of those said they would report it.

Besides a dedicated team, more awareness about hate crimes, community-led response programmes and better data gathering of hate incidents were all floated as potential solutions.

A five-page action plan released alongside the report, which was sparse on detail, said that police planned to “develop an end-to-end victim centred response to hate crime”.

Work would also be done to encourage the public to report hate incidents, no matter how minor.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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