Top Māori cop defends police action

By Ripeka Timutimu

The country's top Māori cop is backing police action in the Onepū siege, saying they would never have sent whānau to negotiate with the gunman for fear more people could have been hurt. 

Four officers were alleged shot by gunman Rhys Warren on Wednesday night, and the fallout saw his family criticise police action.

Police have received backlash over how they handled the Onepū stand-off, which saw four police officers shot.

However, Superintendent Wally Haumaha isn't backing down from their position, “You cannot send family into a situation where you are dealing with the unpredictable behaviour of somebody that has just shot four people.”

The family of Rhys Warren released a statement yesterday critical of police action, “It’s been traumatic being in a position that the whānau could have been avoided, had the police taken some time to find another way that may have included tikanga Māori, and the whānau involvement.”

“The approach they took in terms of patience and exercising care and they needed to bring in our Māori Liaison Office Warwick Morehu, it was appropriate that he was brought in at the right time,” says Haumaha.

There are currently 945 Māori police officers and 42 Māori liaison officers.

Massey University academic and former Australian police officer Steve Elers says those numbers need to grow, “We need far more Māori at all levels not just as iwi liaison officers but also frontline, management and executive as well.”

Elers says if he had been in the same situation as seen at Onepū, he would have only co-operated with a Māori officer, “I would open the door but then I would ask that officer to bring me a Māori liaison officer to be honest all Māori people if they have interactions with police, that’s their right, they have the right to remain silent, it’s the same right as anyone else."

“We are always looking at ways to improve our approaches to any incident and I think we have come a long way, we have built a lot of trust and confidence,” says Haumaha.

Despite criticisms, both the family of Warren and police were happy with the outcome, though Warren may face further charges in court later this month.