Street smart

Members of the newly-formed Wellington Safety Patrol were on duty for the second Bledisloe Cup test.

“The police are the public and the public are the police.”

In August, the members of the newly-formed Wellington Safety Patrol were on duty for the second Bledisloe Cup test. Run by the New Zealand Police, the patrol initiative supports the New Zealand Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy.

Saturday evening in Wellington’s entertainment precinct, and the streets around Courtenay Place and Cuba Street are strangely empty. Normal life is on hold: the All Blacks are about to play.

The city is on a timer. At 7.35pm, at the other end of town in the packed-out Westpac Stadium, the second Bledisloe Cup match against the Wallabies will kick off.

The quiet times won’t last. Towards 9.00pm, the doors of the Westpac stadium will open and the spectators will stream into town, merging with crowds of people who have watched the match at home or cheered on the All Blacks from the comfort of a bar or pub.

The throngs of people, the emotional release of winning – let alone losing – combined with alcohol will make for an eventful night.

At Wellington Central Police Station, the Police know what to expect. Tonight they will be out in force, and so will the volunteers who assist them: the Māori Wardens, the Pasifika Street Patrollers and the members of the newly-formed Wellington Safety Patrol.

In the past two decades, as New Zealand has become more ethnically and culturally diverse, public agencies such as the Police have faced the challenge of gradually making the composition of their staff more representative of the communities they serve.

In 2009, Jessica Phuang, the Asian Liaison Co-ordinator for the Auckland City Police District, set up an Auckland Asian Safety Patrol to encourage more Asians to join the Police. Today the patrol, now known as the Auckland Safety Community Patrol, has around 200 members from a range of origins: Pākehā, Pasifika, Māori, Middle Eastern, Latin American, African and Asian.

It has been highly successful. The patrols have helped migrants feel safer in their communities and more comfortable about asking the Police for help. As volunteers, the patrol members participate in the life of the wider community, and many of them have gone on to join the Police.

Auckland is, of course, the most diverse of New Zealand’s regions – more diverse than cities like Sydney or New York – but other regions are heading in the same direction. In Christchurch, 20 per cent of the population was born overseas at the time of the 2013 census – a figure that will have climbed as skilled migrants arrived to take part in the rebuild. In Wellington City the figure is 29 per cent.

So in 2016, Wellington and Christchurch have established their own patrols.

Wellington District Ethnic Liaison Co-ordinator Sergeant Phil Pithyou founded the Wellington Safety Patrol in April 2016, recruiting 12 patrol volunteers. Synteche Collins was appointed District Safety Patrol Co-ordinator in mid-June.

Since then, another 19 patrol volunteers have joined up, recruited mostly through social media. Synteche plans to double the number of patrol volunteers:

“I want this to be an all-inclusive multicultural patrol, with migrants from a range of cultural backgrounds – including Europeans – and all walks of life. I want the patrollers to learn the teamwork skills that are so essential to police work.”

More volunteers will mean more patrols.

I would like to see patrols out there every week, heading out to wherever police intelligence tells us they are needed,

says Synteche

The patrollers will also help the police work more closely with people whose first language is not English.

“I think our patrollers speak around a dozen languages between them.”

Tonight the Wellington Safety Patrol has six members on duty. For the first half of the evening, before the match finishes, the patrollers will cover areas around the waterfront and Courtenay Place

In the second half, when the match is over and the town fills with rugby fans, they will accompany Sergeant Shane Benge and Senior Sergeant Steve Sargent of the Alcohol Harm Prevention Unit down to Courtenay Place.

Down by Allen Street, Jasim Adam offers tips to patrollers Leo Jing and Aminundeen Pakeer Thambe: Be sure to take proper notes about what you see, saying ‘young people’ is not enough. What ages are they? Can we say anything about their ethnicity?

The community patrollers are a second set of eyes and ears for the Police and, dressed in their yellow high-visibility jackets, are an obvious and reassuring presence.

But they do not have formal powers. If anything happens, they will need to call in help. Keeping themselves safe is their first and all-important priority.

Jasim is the most experienced of the patrollers. A prominent member of the local Muslim community, he has worked with Muslim youth, been a prison volunteer, and, for five years or more, has helped advise the Police on how to work with Muslim families. A project management consultant, Jasim volunteers because he wants to give back to the community, as does finance officer Leo Jing.

Patroller Kengo Kaichi is working for the Japanese Embassy, but back in Japan he was a police officer, a job to which he will return. He has volunteered to see how things work in New Zealand.

Som Fields, a Victoria University postgraduate student, is thinking about joining the police one day.

Yao Meng, originally from China, and Aminudeen Pakeer Thambi, who came to New Zealand as a refugee from Sri Lanka, are partway through the six- to 12-month Police recruitment selection process, including a pre-Police College distance learning course and a physical appraisal test.

Yao is a university-qualified finance officer. Aminudeen has a pharmacy degree; someday he would like to work in police forensics.

At the close of the first half of their evening, the patrollers gather again at the Wellington Central Police Station to talk things through and compile their notes.

It has been quiet. One patrol has come across two German tourists drinking cider and let them know that an inner city liquor ban is in place. Another patrol has come across a taxi driver having an asthma attack and alerted Police Liaison Officer Constable Duncan Ashton, who has called an ambulance.

In the second half of the evening, the patrollers accompany Sergeant Benge and Senior Sergeant Sargent out on to the streets of a very different post-match Wellington.

The mood is one of celebration. The All Blacks have won. Revellers gather around to banter with the two Police Officers, who respond with good-natured amusement. Then Shane and Steve lead the patrollers off on a mystery tour of deserted side alleys, empty shopping lanes and parking lots.

By the time the patrollers return to the Central Police Station, it is almost midnight.

Following the Bledisloe Cup test, 14 arrests were made for alcohol-related offending, including disorderly behaviour and fighting, in and around the Courtenay Place area and the CBD. The All Blacks won 29-9.

To find out about the Wellington Safety Patrol contact Synteche Collins at:
(04) 381 2016

To find out about the Christchurch Safety Patrol contact Inspector Hirone Waretini:
(03) 363 7400