Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The police haven't learned

A year ago, the government released the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct. Sparked by the flood of complaints which followed Louise Nicholas going public, the report damned the police for failing to deal properly with allegations of rape and sexual misconduct by officers, and for maintaining a toxic internal culture which permitted officers to rape and abuse women with impunity.

One of the recommendations of the report was for a comprehensive code of conduct for sworn staff [PDF], including standards on sexual behaviour:

New Zealand Police should develop standards, policies, and guidelines on inappropriate sexual conduct towards, and the forming of sexual relationships with, members of the public. These should be incorporated into all codes of conduct and relevant policy and training materials. The standards, policies, and guidelines should be developed with the assistance of an external expert in professional ethics and should
  • specify actions and types of behaviour of a sexual nature that are inappropriate or unprofessional
  • prohibit members of police from entering any relationship of a sexual nature with a person over whom they are in a position of authority or where there is a power differential
  • provide guidance to members and their supervisors about how to handle concerns about a possible or developing relationship that may be inappropriate
  • emphasise the ethical dimensions of sexual conduct, including the need for police officers to avoid bringing the police into disrepute through their private activities.
Note that this isn't about what police do in their bedrooms (which is nobody's business but their own); rather it is about preventing the sorts of abuses of power which saw them using the power of their uniform to coerce vulnerable young women into sex.

Today the police issued their draft code. It completely ignores the recommendation above, and does not mention sexual misconduct at all. So, after five criminal trials and a high-level commission of inquiry, the police have learned precisely nothing. The attitudes which led officers to look the other way on the rape and abuse of Louise Nicholas and others remain. The belief that abusing the uniform to get laid is a perk of the job remains. The hostility to public oversight and control remains. And so the distrust and the belief that the police harbour rapists will remain. The police have just destroyed their best opportunity to show they have changed and are no longer the force which stood by and watched and protected their own while officers raped and abused and molested. The result will be that the victims of such crimes will not feel that they can report them, and their victimisers will continue to enjoy impunity. And we are all the losers from that.