By Meriana Johnsen, RNZ

A new study has shown police are almost twice as likely to send a first-time Māori offender to court than they are a Pākehā offender.

The JustSpeak study did a fresh analysis of police, justice and census data from 2013 and found that Māori are 1.7 times more likely to end up in court than Pākehā.

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It also shows Māori women who are arrested in their late teens or early 20s are twice as likely as Pākehā women to end up before a judge.

JustSpeak board member Tamatha Paul (Ngāti Awa, Waikato-Tainui) said: "As a young Māori woman reading this research, it frightens me, and then to look at the leaders of our country and see that the rhetoric is largely around punitive policy like the Armed Response trial, this doesn't give me much hope that the government is actually committed to solving the issue of over-incarceration of Māori.

"This illustrates the essence of what research has shown from the likes of Moana Jackson that our justice system is fundamentally racist."

Tamatha Paul. Photo / RNZ
Tamatha Paul. Photo / RNZ

But police deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha had reservations about the study because it didn't show what type of crime was being committed.

He said the disparity may be that Māori were committing more serious offences and ineligible for programmes which diverted people away from court for low-level crimes like shoplifting and careless driving.

"If they are being arrested at the lower end of the scale and those opportunities are not being provided, then I would be concerned."

He said police were being trained to look at pre-charge warnings or iwi panels when they came across a first-time offender.

Wally Haumaha. Photo / RNZ
Wally Haumaha. Photo / RNZ

More than 3000 people were diverted to Te Pae Oranga instead of the courts last year.
Police were also required to undergo unconscious bias training, although it was not evident yet whether it was working.

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"We're still yet to look at an evaluative process but what we have is we've put leaders in place where we've trained many of our staff again in unconscious bias ... and that training will then go into every district around the country."

Hastings City councillor and community worker Henare O'Keefe said it would help if police were more involved in Māori life.

"Policemen [used to] coach the local rugby team, or they sat on the marae committee, all that sort of thing helped to build that relationship. So, maybe, modern day policing, in order to go forward we need to go back."

"More brown faces within the police would certainly help and maybe a noho marae for new recruits, they may not agree with it but it would at least give them an understanding and more of an empathetic approach."

In the meantime, JustSpeak is calling on all the main political parties to work together to reduce the number of Māori in the justice system.