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Migrants start to trust the police

Monday, 01 September 2008

• Howick and Pakuranga Times

RELATIONSHIPS between recent immigrants and Howick police are improving, thanks to a steady programme of police engagement.

BE ALERT: Constable Phil Savil teaches crime awareness to a group of immigrants. Times photo Cameron Broadhurst.

Constable Phil Savil, who spoke at an immigrants’ conversation group in All Saint’s Community Hall on Thursday, says the situation has changed considerably in the past two years.

“When I used to go out on patrol it seemed Asian immigrants were scared of us, because they might have corruption in their own countries. Now they approach me.”

Sergeant Keith Olsen says regular outreach by officers to immigrant groups is part of a multi-pronged police approach.

“It’s had a hugely positive effect,” he says.

“If we weren’t doing this, nothing would happen. Immigrants may have come from countries where they have little or no relationship with the police. We want them to feel police are approachable here,” says Mr Olsen.

Mandarin language posters are now going up at shopping centres as part of a programme to raise awareness of safe behaviour. And the police have had so many offers of help from immigrants that there’s a volunteer waiting list.

A number of immigrants told the Times on Thursday that New Zealand sentencing is inadequate and that crime is on the rise. However, all those interviewed said they felt safe in local communities, a point that was also emphasised by Mr Olsen.

Korean immigrant June Park, who has been in the area 14 years, says she carries her purse in her pocket, not handbag, and is aware of protecting herself.

After being in countries with a heavy police presence, Russian and Chinese immigrants commented that seeing police on the streets seemed uncommon here.

Russian immigrant Tania Sorochenko, who has volunteered to be a translator for local police, says there’s less crime here and it differs from her home of Siberia, where apartment burglaries are frequent.

Police officers speaking at the meeting focused on handbag snatching, car safety, awareness of surroundings and neighbourhood support networks.

However, they couldn’t say whether people’s behaviour had changed enough to make crimes such as handbag thefts more difficult to commit.

“When crooks don’t think there’s a good chance of getting cash, they won’t do it anymore,” says Mr Olsen. “That process will take some time.”

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