Maori Wardens walk the beat
Maori wardens don't have the powers of police but the positive attitude towards them makes them a big ally to the men and women in blue in the region. KRIS DANDO had a cuppa with the no-nonsense crew from the Ngati Toa Maori Wardens in Porirua.
"We're flat out, never been so busy," says Heniaka August as she takes time out in the lunch room of the Cannons Creek police base.
The base accommodates community volunteers, who answer phones, the Neighbour Policing Team who have established a leading presence in the area, and the wardens.
"It's a great place to be based, a real hub for the Creek and we're working very closely with police. We talk to each other, that's what this relationship is all about. I can't say it's the same elsewhere but in Porirua we're tight."
The wardens were established in 1962 by the Maori Community Development Act.
It has been called "archaic" by wardens, largely because it instilled the seldom-used power to order Maori to leave a bar if they appear drunk and there is frustration that they still operate under the New Zealand Maori Council.
Before the Maori Affairs Minister approves wardens' warrants, a district body of the council must sign them off.
The 1962 act has not kept pace with what wardens do in the community. Mrs August relates a string of duties; carrying out night patrols Thursday to Saturday, security at events such as funerals, hui and festivals, dealing with youth and a presence in court.
Te Puni Kokiri, the Maori Development ministry, funds the programme nationally, $1.1 million a year but the wardens themselves are volunteers.
Mrs August says the "politics and all the other stuff" that exists, even in Porirua, is beyond her control and "we just get on and do what we do".
The Ngati Toa group has been running for two years and seven wardens work in an area that covers Johnsonville to Peka Peka. Their van and its costs are covered by Kapiti Mana Police, who also supply radios.
There are no Maori wardens operating in Wellington City, although a number patrolled there during the Rugby World Cup but there is a strong presence in Lower Hutt, including groups based in Naenae and Wainuiomata.
"At the end of the day we all act quite autonomously but we're beside police and we all want the same thing - a safer community. If we're called into an event in Wellington, we'll go," Mrs August said.
In the days after we spoke to her, she and her colleagues had a number of events to attend, including the blessing of a home where a woman died in Tawa and a celebration of the 28th Maori Battalion.
There is another wardens group in Porirua but they don't have much to do with each other, Mrs August said.
"When a group of us wanted to give it a go again, we decided on a new name and to go old school. As a courtesy we approached the local iwi, Ngati Toa and got their blessing. We do get criticism from some people, there is jealousy but while they're sitting at home moaning, we're out there."
Training involves a course at the police college and a uniform provided. Mrs August said "it depends on the person" as to how long it takes before they're on the front line but it is often within six months. They have to be good with people and want to make a change in their community.
All potential wardens are vetted by police checks.
"It's important you don't talk down to people; we need to establish relationships. We watch our younger ones, pick them up and take them home. They know who we are and a few of them call me 'nan'. Most of us are mothers and grandmothers, so we know what kids are like. You would be surprised how many young ones are out drinking, all under 18, even in winter," she said.
Richard Quirk joined because he works part-time and was willing to give a few hours when he was free. He sometimes does up to 25 hours over the weekend, from 7pm till 2am.
"I like helping people and I have family members who do it; it's a bit of a tradition. You're helping your community."
Kapiti Mana Police area commander Inspector John Price said his staff have an "exceptional" relationship with the Ngati Toa wardens and were happy to help with their creation two years ago.
"There is a nationwide project underway [with Te Puni Kokiri] and we are talking about a group of people who are doing this in their own time, presenting themselves professionally and driven by a sense of service. The Ngati Toa wardens are capable guardians working alongside us to keep people safe and provide reassurance. That makes them special; they are quiet but visible heroes."
Mr Price said while police and Maori wardens' closeness is not unique, housing them in the NPT building in Cannons Creek shows the extent to which the support exists in Porirua.
They can share information about "hot" sites and are always aware of what is occurring locally, he said.
In two years, Mrs August said she has never felt unsafe with general respect garnered from even the "unsavoury characters" in the city.