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Who Polices the Police?

Entry 1711, on 2015-04-15 at 19:42:54 (Rating 4, News)

In this blog I have made several negative comments going back many years about the New Zealand police. I should also say that I have generally accepted that in most cases the police do an adequate job, and often have to do difficult work which I would never want to do myself, but that is no excuse for unacceptable levels of poor performance or any systematic problems which I believe really do exist.

Recently politcal commentator and academic Bryce Edwards has made similar comments to these and has received some criticism as a result. Is that fair? Well obviously I don't think so because he has been saying very similar things to me (it just took him a bit longer to get started on the subject) but I guess we should expect that when a well known public figure takes this sort of stand against a powerful organisation he will get a reaction.

So to get on to some specifics...

After Edwards' article criticising police performance the police commissioner disagreed and said he should get out from behind his desk and see first hand the work the police do every day.

What an fatuous response. I couldn't help but notice that he didn't address any of the issues raised. I also though it was ironic that the commissioner, who I suspect spends most of his life behind a desk, criticised Edwards for the same thing.

But I have noticed increasing levels of propaganda from the police over the last few years. This of course fits in with the attitude of other large organisations (including the government) who seem to think they can avoid criticism by indulging in self-righteous, humorous, or irrelevant sideshows instead of really answering the hard questions.

There have been many high profile failures of police over the years - cases involving Mark Lundy, Teina Pora, David Bain, and Arthur Allan Thomas being the most obvious - and I'm sure these represent just the tiniest fraction of the total because we never hear about most of them. But is the problem incompetence or corruption?

Bryce Edwards says it's corruption but not in the sense of police getting bribes or anything similar. It's corruption through misuse of power and I think that he has a good point.

But the title of this blog post is "Who Polices the Police?" so let's get back to that. We do have the (so-called) Independent Police Conduct Authority but that name is a bit of a joke and many people see it as being anything but independent because many of its staff are ex-police. Did anyone (apart from those who don't want the police controlled) really think this was a good idea?

Here's a quote I found describing this organisation: "The worst thing we can do is to continue to pretend the IPCA is somehow independent, somehow useful, somehow holds police to account and somehow reports faithfully and honestly to the public. It does none of these things. We may as well be rid of this misleading and useless appendage."

Exactly. We need an organisation that can do the job it is there for, and one which looks at complaints realistically and doesn't bias the outcome of investigations before they even start. The IPCA being so useless is worse than not having it at all because now the police can quote the outcome of its investigations and say they have been cleared. It's totally ridiculous.

The police - more than any other large organisations with an important role in society - need to be controlled carefully. At the moment there is little control and the police are going feral. If we're not careful we could end up with a bunch of armed thugs and killers like the American police where intimidation, brutality, and murder is an almost daily occurence.

Whatever your perspective I don't think it's unrealistic to expect the senior police management to answer reasonable accusations fairly and without resorting to cheap stunts like demanding their critics join them on the beat. If they can't come up with a better defence than that then maybe things really have got worse than we thought.

And since the IPCA don't do much, who else is going to police the police?

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