OPINION

It's hard case when you see hardened criminals and badly-behaved kids come to terms with the reality that not all policemen are bad buggers.

Most of their lives they have greeted the police with negative kōrero (speech) and one-fingered salutes, mostly to mask the real reasons why they behave badly.

The hard case part kicked in recently when one of our at-risk tamariki (children) went hunting with one and didn't know it.

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In the old days, this young fulla would have been known as one of the "naughty boys".

He came to us from a troubled home, and his understandably pirau (rotten) perception of the police was because he was on their radar every day doing dumb stuff.

The pirihimana (police) were a pain in his nono when it came to having heaps of so-called hard-out, cool, fun.

Truth is, it was a way of unsupervised coping for a disconnected and lost little boy.

Fast forward to him coming into our whare to be mentored by our youth team.

He starts to discover who he is, where he belongs and how his whakapapa - his genealogy - links him back to a whole new whānau.

The other day the young fulla gets to go bush and go hunting for pigs with our at-risk youth manager and his mate, who happens to be a cop.

During the hunt, the boy gets to know the policeman as a funny, tough-as mātua, who could sniff out a poaka from 50 yards, even before the dogs started barking.

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So they walk and talk and get to know each other.

During the day up in the ngahere (bush) the hunter asks him what he wants to be when he grows up.

"I dunno - what do you do?" was his answer.

That's when the hunter told him he was a detective in the local police force.

The expression on the boy's face, as blank as a starter pistol's bullet, could have brought down a deer.

It was one of absolute disbelief that this kind, friendly, funny-as hunter helping him track down a poaka, was in fact a poaka himself.

He just thought he was his mentor's mate.

They kept walking and talking and then came the kicker question: "What do I have to do to be a policeman?"

"Stay in school and stay out of trouble – it's just that simple," came the encouraging answer from Mr Detective Poaka, hori-as hunter.

Needless to say, that advice has sunk in. We have every confidence this young tamariki is going to stand out as a community leader.

The kaupapa (theme) of this story is policemen are real people just like us.

I guess times have changed from when we were young haututū (naughty) kids.

From an outsider looking in, it seems to be a lot harder now to be a police officer than what it used to be.

Back in the day, we had some top cops we never would have called "pigs" - never would have entertained the thought of it - not even after our parents' warnings that the "pleeceman" were gonna come and take you away if you carry on being a naughty sooky bubba.

The question that should be asked by the staunch stand-up and sometimes stand-over members of our community is what would our society look like if there were no police to come and rescue our beat up wives, bashed kids and drunkenly driven cars.

Who would knock on the next of kin's door in the middle of the night to tell them their loved one has been tragically killed in an accident just down the road?

Chaos is the picture painted of life without the long arm of the law.

Sure, there are bad buggers in the boys in blue whānau just as there are bad buggers in any sector of society, but tarring the whole force with a bacon brush name should be treated with the same disdain as any other racial slur.

We should all work on righting this wrong.

It wasn't until I got to see the true colour of the boys in blue by working with them - for the greater good of our lost and lonely, disconnected whānau, that I was challenged to look at my own internal prejudice toward the police.

Hopefully more and more of us will see the blue light just like the lost boy in the bush.

broblack@xtra.co.nz
Tommy Wilson writes under the pen name Tommy Kapai. He is a local best-selling author, writer and columnist in this paper for 18 years. He is also the executive director of Te Tuinga Whanau Social Support Services.