After 10 years, Oamaru identity Derek Beveridge (71) has retired from his role as a restorative justice officer, working with victims and offenders in the district. Before that, he spent 42 years with the police, retiring as a sergeant. Reporter Daniel Birchfield sits down with him to reflect on his experiences in the restorative justice role.
Q: How did you get involved with the restorative justice system?
Initially, when I was working for the police, I was looking after the diversion process. When I retired from the police, the opportunity was there for someone to do restorative justice, so I took it.
Q: What does the restorative justice process involve?
Restorative justice is the system where we’re getting offenders and victims together so the victim can actually see the offender, and the offender can see what actually hurt they’ve caused to a victim. Obviously, not every victim wants to take part and obviously not every offender wants to take part . The system is really to have that meeting.
Q: What was your role?
I was the facilitator. I arranged the meetings … for all the parties concerned to know the direction things were actually going to take. Then you’ve got to meet an assessor and talk about, is it an appropriate matter to have a meeting or is it not? It you’re only going to re-victimise the victim then it’s not appropriate.
Q: Is is difficult for people to face those meetings?
It is. It takes a lot of courage and not everyone wants to do it, of course. It’s a sort of different scenario quite often when people actually know each other, because you are going to see each other. For the scenario where someone has their house burgled and you have no idea who did it, to then actually face the offender can actually be a benefit to the victim sometimes because a lot of them live in fear afterwards. Are they coming back, something else might happen and so on. If they face the person, it’s maybe just not quite the way they understand it might be.
Q: What challenges did the job involve?
Trying to remain completely impartial. Most restorative justice matters are focused on the victim. It doesn’t mean to say that everything is 100% on one side or the other – at times, there’s a little bit of cloudiness in between – but you can also see things weren’t 100% on either side. You’ve got to sort of work your way through that.
Q: What is your impression of the system overall?
I think it does have a benefit, but not for everybody. There is no argument that some of the offenders will go through the restorative justice process because it might make them look better. Are they genuinely sorry? Not one bit. They will say all the right words, but next week they’ll be out doing the same thing again.
Q: Have there been any highlights for you personally?
I think the highlight is probably still being involved with the community. That’s the best thing … I thoroughly enjoy that. It also means I’m still involved with people I’ve worked with for many, many years both inside and outside the police and the court system. I’m still doing the recidivist drink-driving programme through the courts, so I still go along and operate that on court dates. We take them from the court to an office downtown, where we undertake two DVDs and a questionnaire which looks into drink driving and how it affects themselves, their victims, the police and any emergency services that are involved in aftermath like a crash or fatality. I think the system seems to be working well. It’s another tool … but nothing is going to stop drink-driving.
Q: Are there any meetings or situations that have stood out?
There’s probably several where the conference has actually been really worth it, where the offender has really broken down. They have apologised profusely to victims, they’ve offered them everything under the sun, they’ve hugged them and people have left some of the meetings saying, ‘I’m pleased I came here’. There have been several like that. There’s not too many where things have not gone right because if things don’t go right, the meeting’s over. We just stop it.
Q: What are your plans now?
I’m involved in a lot of other things around the town and I’ll just carry on. I run the air cadets (Air Training Corp) and am involved with the scout movement and Waitaki Safe. In fact, there’s many, many, many of them. I’m never short of a project. I have a few ideas.