Wednesday, October 07, 2009

David Garrett: Civil libertarian

There's an old saying: "a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged". ACT's David Garrett has just demonstrated that there is also a converse: "a liberal is a conservative who has been mugged by the police":

ACT New Zealand Law & Order Spokesman David Garrett today accused the police of failing to enforce their own guidelines and placing themselves above the law.

"Police guidelines state that, when asked, police officers are legally required to either display or supply their badge number – yet this clearly is not occurring," Mr Garrett said.

"Last month, while attending a call-out in Khandallah, police used force against a teenager they mistook for a gatecrasher at an out-of-control party. During the incident, the teenager suffered broken vertebrae in his neck after being struck with a baton. When he asked for the officer's badge number, he was told to 'eff off' – in direct contradiction of long-standing and established police guidelines.

Garrett's sudden discovery of civil liberties and police accountability is welcome, given his recent outright reactionary attitudes on these issues. And yet, I can't help but wonder: would he be so vigorous in his defence - hell, would he care at all - if the victim was an ordinary "crim" or one of the gatecrashers? Does he recognise that civil liberties are for everyone, or does he think they are restricted to rich kids he presumably knows?

Snark aside, Garrett's point is an important one: the requirement for police to publicly display (and supply on request) their badge number goes back to Peel and is the cornerstone of police accountability. Without that accountability, the police are just gangsters in blue. Refusing to provide a badge number doesn't just undermine accountability - by doing so it undermines trust, and the public consent and cooperation which is necessary for the police to do their jobs.

Too many of the police have the attitude that they are not accountable to the public. This attitude needs to be stamped out, and quickly. There should be no place for it in our police, and there is no place for it in our society.