Statistics New Zealand publishes data gathered by the New Zealand Police on apprehensions. An “apprehension” means that a person has been dealt with by the Police in some manner in order to resolve a reported or observed offence. In some circumstances “dealt with by the Police” may result in no further action being taken, other than documenting the offence (for example, an offender may be found to have a mental health condition, or be already in custody). Apprehension numbers do not represent distinct individuals, as a person apprehended for multiple offences will be counted multiple times in the data.
Figure 1 below shows that while Māori comprised about 14-15% of New Zealand's population from 1996 to 2005, they accounted for about 40% of all apprehensions in each of those years. Europeans who made up about 70% of the population, accounted for between 45-50% of apprehensions
Figure 1: Apprehensions 1996-2005 by ethnicity (%)
Examination of different categories of offences (see Appendix: Figures 1.1 to 1.7) also indicate that Māori were most over-represented in apprehensions for crimes of violence, dishonesty and administrative offences, though less markedly
over-represented in apprehensions for sexual offences and property abuse.
Research by Fergusson and his colleagues 1 examined rates of self-reported histories of offending among New Zealand young people up to the age of 14, and then compared this to frequency of Police contact. They found that Māori had rates of Police contact that were nearly three times higher than rates for non-Māori. However, this disparity was only partly explained by recorded differences in offending. When self-reported offending (and social background) was held constant, Māori offenders appeared still to be twice as likely to be subject to Police attention, relative to non-Māori offenders.
A more recent analysis 2 of the same sample, now aged 21, indicated a smaller but similar effect related to arrest and conviction for cannabis use. This study examined the associations between the self-reported use of cannabis, and arrest and conviction for cannabis related offences. Independently of self-declared cannabis use, Māori were more likely to be arrested and convicted for cannabis use. Previous police record, self-reported crime, and being male also increased the likelihood of arrest and conviction. Fergusson et al found this “consistent with a labelling theory perspective” 3.
1 Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, L.J., & Lynskey, M.T. (1993). Ethnicity and bias in Police contact statistics. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 26, 193-206.
2 Fergusson D.M., Swain-Campbell N.R., Horwood L.J. (2003) Arrests and convictions for cannabis related offences in a New Zealand birth cohort. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 70 (2003) 53-63.
3 Op cit, p60 – 61.