A constable in Hawke’s Bay is working on developing more trust for Police and other emergency services in communities where trust is not traditionally high.
He Kāhui Kaitiaki – the coming together of the guardians – is a cross-service initiative with Fire and Emergency New Zealand and St John Ambulance in Hawke’s Bay that aims to engage with tamariki at decile one schools in a way that builds trust.
Constable James Waapu, Kaitakawaenga Iwi Liaison Officer, is keen to help build confidence in Police and other emergency services in these communities, and kicked off the initiative in February at his old school - Omahu School, a semi-rural school between Hastings and Napier.
Police, Fire and St John Ambulance turned up at the school and the tamariki were able to go into their vehicles and try on equipment used by each service.
Lyn Pohe, Omahu School Principal, says the visit was about building relational trust.
“What was great about the Kāhui Kaitiaki day is that it allowed children to explore the services in a safe environment that is their own turangawaewae," she says.
“The children felt comfortable to be themselves and receptive toward the people who are the frontline of the services. They were eager to learn and definitely curious to investigate everything on show."
The youngsters got to explore the fire engine – touching it and sitting in the cab; they felt the pressure of the firehose; they patted the police dog; tried on the police vest; and bandaged themselves or a friend.
An obstacle course set up by Police was a big hit, as was a demonstration by Sergeant Bill Birrell and his dog handlers. The day ended with the tamariki having a delicious sausage sizzle.
“It wasn’t a prescriptive programme with an educator at the front of a class or assembly with cards and pictures," says Lyn. "They weren’t expected to just sit and listen – they were active and able to pursue their own curiosities. It was enormous fun – lots of laughter and respect."
James says the positive reaction from the children was greater than he expected. “I didn’t realise how excited and positive they would be," he says.
“The kids had 15 minutes at each display (Fire, Police and St John) and they didn’t want to leave each one – we had to encourage them to move on."
Rather than the school being in lockdown with someone on the run, the children got a different experience of police officers and dogs, says Lyn.
“The emergency services staff were so open and easy with the children – and the tamariki responded to that and engaged. They were able to meet them as real people, and feel comfortable and safe with them.”
For James, Omahu School was a special place to christen the initiative. “I gave them my pepeha – and theirs is the same. I went to that school and grew up in that neighbourhood.”
That community, like many decile one communities, has more families that are impacted by violence and crime.
“I had a lot of experiences growing up in that community, and I didn’t like some of what I saw," says James. "But there were a lot of positives as well.
"I wanted to show the tamariki that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still make good choices and come out on top.
“That was a special aspect of this first school visit for me.”
Showing a different side to the emergency services, and building relational trust, aims to help the children feel safe and understand what they’re about.
“These children often experience emergency services in a negative context," says James. "They may have home experiences that mean they’d be hesitant in calling 111 if there was an emergency. But if they have more positive experiences and develop confidence we can hopefully change that."
Sergeant Phil Rowden, Pouwhakataki Iwi Liaison Coordinator for Hawke’s Bay, says the visit was a really good start with building trust in the community.
"Prevention starts with our kids," he says. "And when we connect with our rangatahi we then connect through to the wider community.
“It is great to be able to work with FENZ and St Johns - all credit to their people too in coming together on this initiative.”
NOTE: Police is currently reassessing community engagement initiatives in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, with community safety paramount.