Senior Sergeant Joe Tipene says his role as an iwi liaison officer enables him to strengthen relationships between the police and the Maori community.
He and Constable Jackie Simeon are iwi liaison officers based at Auckland Central police station. They are responsible for Central and East Auckland including Glen Innes, Panmure, Pt England and Mt Wellington.
The role of the iwi liaison officer was established in the New Zealand Police in 1992 and the opportunity for these officers to study a Maori immersion course was introduced in 2000. Eleven members of the police in Auckland, including Mr Tipene and Mr Simeon, have taken up the challenge since then.
Being equipped with an understanding of all things Maori can be a great advantage, Mr Tipene says.
"In terms of community engagement there are occasions when it opens up a whole lot more doors if we've got skills in te reo and an understanding of tikanga (protocols)."
The men work closely with marae and Maori-language immersion schools and give positive messages on such things as crime prevention, drugs, alcohol and bullying.
Being able to speak in English and Maori means students tend to be more willing to listen, he says.
The officers were at Orakei Marae for Waitangi Day.
"We've got a good relationship with the marae and they are very receptive to us being there," he says.
Another part of their job is to advise police on matters of Maori protocol.
They also support police at events and can speak on their behalf.
Mr Tipene is of Te Rarawa, Ngati Whatua and Ngapuhi descent and studied the one-year rumaki reo course at Te Wananga Takiura in 2011. He found it hugely rewarding.
‘The course gives us the tools to be more responsive to the needs of our Maori community.
This year there are four officers from around Auckland taking the course which is fully funded by the police. Officers remain salaried staff members while they study.
Mr Tipene's language skills were limited when he started the course so it was tough to follow what was going on.
"About halfway through is when the penny dropped for me," he says.
"I get the majority of what someone is saying now but not all of it. I still have a lot to learn."
Mr Simeon is of Nga Hine descent and went to high school at Hato Petera, a kura kaupapa Maori in Northcote.
"The course strengthened what I knew and added a bit more. It has made my role easier and if I need to stand up and speak, I feel more confident to do so."
Both men feel lucky to have been offered the chance to further their language and cultural awareness. They are keen to keep it up so have enrolled in te reo night classes at Unitec this term.
‘The more you learn the more you want to keep on learning," Mr Simeon says.
Mr Tipene says the scheme has brought him closer to his own culture.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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