Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Police resisting change

On Tuesday, the Auditor-General presented their Second monitoring report on the response of the New Zealand Police to the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct [PDF] to the House. The media coverage, informed by the police's and the Minister's spin, has been generally positive: the police are making progress, but are still facing challenges.

Reading the actual report shows a rather harsher assessment. The Auditor-General (or rather, Deputy Auditor-General; the actual Auditor-General is a former senior member of the police whose management style is implicitly under review, and so has rightly recused herself completely to avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest. Politicians and judges take note!) uses mild language, just like the Ombudsmen. But their criticism is damning. Firstly, the police themselves claim they have already implemented all the Commission of Inquiry's recommendations - something the Auditor-General strongly disagrees with. Secondly, they're pleading poverty on further reform, arguing that the recession and the government's law and order program mean they lack the resources for further reform. But as the Auditor-General points out, this is a matter of priorities, and

we would be surprised if it were not among the Police’s highest priorities to ensure that adult sexual assault complaints and complaints against the Police are investigated properly, and that the Police are behaving appropriately.
They may be surprised, but I am not. The police have an insular culture, which is resistant to outside criticism and control. This is a problem the report identifies, when it recommends that the police pay more attention to outside voices by appointing civilians to ethics committees and learning more from complaints. Related to this is the finding that there are significant pockets of resistance to change, and a real danger that the police will simply turn implementing the recommendations as a compliance exercise rather than a real cultural shift (something the claim to have already made all the necessary changes suggests). If they do, it will hurt all of us. As the report notes,
integrity and the public’s perception of integrity are the cornerstone of providing unbiased and effective policing.
We need to be able to trust the police to investigate all crimes fairly and impartially - including crimes committed by police officers. If we can't, then the police are just a gang with a flasher uniform, unworthy of our respect or our trust. It is that simple.