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My reaction to a new Commissioner of Police

Written By: - Date published: 8:24 am, March 10th, 2020 - 15 comments
Categories: law, police - Tags: ,

Previous readers of this site will be aware that I’m not a particularly  enthusiastic supporter of the police. I’m more in the order of regarding our current police of a necessary burden on society that could do with having considerable improvement.

Much of the time the police do a competent job on anything that is relatively simple. Individually I find most members of the police that I come in contact with are dedicated to their work and the protection of all citizens. 

However there are exceptions, and the current police structures seem to allow some outright nutters ability to cause unfettered and frequently unlawful mayhem under the cover of ‘order’. I always remember a member of the police trying to use personal details of my nieces diary seized in a search warrant for a peaceful animal rights protest to try to deter my sister from pursuing a complaint to the IPCA about handling of the search on a minor.

I think that their organisation as a body is still the archaic  militia that formed back in the 19th century, and often still seems to live in that era. It is an organisation that even its most ardent supporters could not claim has a high degree of coherence. The separation of the police into fiefdoms by region and function seems to act as a filter to allow some serious and often dangerous differences in practice.

Leaks of sensitive data seem to be endemic. Police information regularly leaking to private investigations like that run by Thompson and Clark for the benefit of industry groups, companies, and state owned enterprises.  About the only thing that is brighter in this area is that the police appear to have started to clamp down on some of it leaking to criminals. While conversely the police appear to treat any investigation into their operations as being intrusions into their private world

The only point that I happen to agree with for the current opponents of the proposed gun registration legislation is that the police have been really bad at managing such tasks in the past. There have been massive discrepancies in the handling of information and the methods of operation across the various forces. It is hard to see much in the police that would indicate that it won’t happen again.

One of the primary issues with the police is their view of constructive criticism and civilian oversight. They simply don’t listen to or deal with complaints. It doesn’t matter if they are pointably directed to by judges, or on rare occasions by the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Authority (who get the groups of police to run their investigations on their own group members) or even dragged into court and lose cases (think of their losing streak with Nicky Hager for instance).. Well at best they will issue a meaningless apology after wasting considerable amounts of taxpayer money – and then ignore any lessons learnt.

You can always tell a stupid organisation. They’re the ones who can’t change.

The NZ police have been like this from the first time I dealt with them. Laying a complaint after the springbok tour in 1981 – where apparently the badge number I saw behind the assaulting baton in Auckland was in Christchurch on that day. Yeah right – that really flew as an explanation to the young soldier that I was then. I was trying to deal with what appeared to me to be a assault and riot by police inflicted on a peaceful protesting group who’d done nothing but destroy their voices over many hours.

All the way to my recent bout of jury service 40 years later, I’ve been puzzled by the many police actions. This was a case where I couldn’t see any positive evidence about a parents involvement in a suspicious death of an infant apart from some pretty but useless medical statistics (sample sizes in handfuls). There was no other corroborating evidence despite a pretty extensive investigation including some highly intrusive surveillance.

Somehow the police and crown prosecutors seem to have forgotten that their job was to prove an unlawful behaviour beyond reasonable doubt. It wasn’t up to the defense to explain something that may simply be an unusual, it was up to the police and prosecution to prove an unlawful death. I went all the way through the prosecution case trying to see why in the hell they’d brought the case to trial and left not knowing. It resulted in a hung jury after 4 weeks with two jury members deferring to the authority of medical and police opinion and the rest of us unable to convict on the evidence presented.

On the way through the last 40 years, I’ve seen some awful losing streaks in court with police bringing charges against social activists. Usually with the police only won after they managed to drag status hearings out long enough to the point where it became a choice between attending court or earning a living. It appears to be the legal tactic of choice by police, and one that earns them no respect.

On the other hand, I still treasure the memory when I saw two police from Avondale station who followed a suspicious trail of blood through our apartment block to find a bag of leaking soup bones.

Or letting police into our building at 3am in the morning to execute a well-informed search warrant on a drug dealer and then following the subsequent court case.

Or after 1999 as the police numbers got lifted after Nationals daft cost-cutting was eliminated and police finally started to attend basic thefts in our building and trying to solve them rather than just giving a complaint number for the insurance. The sense of relief from members of the police and our apartment community was palpable.

I know nothing about this new commissioner of the police apart from what is in the government’s press release

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today announced the appointment of Andrew Coster as the next Commissioner of Police.

“Andrew takes up this leadership role at a time when the Government is making our communities safer by adding 2,000 new police officers to the frontline and reforming gun laws to stop firearms from falling into the wrong hands,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“I know he’ll lead a team of 13,000 people across the country with positivity, inclusion and integrity. 

His CV looks interesting with time not only in the police but also in other parts of the justice system.

“He rose to Area Commander in Auckland City Central before becoming the District Commander for the Southern Police District in 2013.

“On moving to Police National Headquarters in 2015 he was Assistant Commissioner, Strategy and Transformation. Before taking up his current role, he was Acting Deputy Commissioner, Resource Management.

“He has been a Solicitor in the office of the Crown Solicitor in Auckland, and more recently was seconded as Deputy Chief Executive at the Ministry of Justice,” Stuart Nash said.

But I really just wish that the police organisation would start to learn how to improve their organisation so that I could actually start to learn to respect them.

I don’t expect that a single person at the top can do that easily because the police still operates like discrete militia forces that it formed as back in the 19th century rather than a single coherent organisation. The differences in operation between parts of the police even within Auckland are often quite startling.

But even some incremental improvements across the national organisation so that they could be trusted with running a coherent national weapons register would be an improvement and  a pointer to future organisational development.

15 comments on “My reaction to a new Commissioner of Police ”

  1. I Feel Love 1

    https://www.google.co.nz/amp/s/amp.rnz.co.nz/article/7eb47171-5308-41dd-a672-ab812ec4d3a5 when this guy was charged with threatening a building, the cops just wouldn't let it go, but the liaison cop the artist dealt with was cool and respectful, it was the upper guys in the force who just wouldn't let thus go. The judge laughed them out of court.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    Good for you Mr Coster, welcome to leading one of the most change resistant cultures in NZ. In my view authority worshipping New Zealanders that love the Police have led a rather sheltered life or never seen the cops at work close up.

    Once I was harassed by detectives for 6 months, visits and pullovers at all hours, and friends and employer visited also, over a case I had no involvement with, but “a vehicle matching yours” was seen at the scene they claimed– my car at the time was a distinctive US V8 and I knew well it was not seen in that place. I found out later an unsavoury acquaintance, under pressure on other matters, had offered my name to Police to take the heat off himself.

    Police regularly misrepresent matters in Court, and fabricate evidence, and use excessive unwarranted force–e.g. People’s Centre case in the early 90s, including blinding Sam Buchanan in one eye with a baton. They obtain and misuse private data for all sorts of reasons, and indulge in personal vendettas that have driven some right to the edge. Several hundred Police members a year get charged with criminal offences. Evidence stores get raided or items do not make it that far.

    And being sworn, they get to take on a political role which largely seems to involve intervening in Union matters on Employers behalf, and harassing those exercising democratic freedoms of assembly, speech and association. There is a whole bunch of small special units affiliated to the SIS and GSCB but good luck with finding out what they actually do! The cops have increased powers and decreased accountability just as they are militarising and upping their weapons arsenal. Cops cannot be trusted to do as they say–pepper spray, a baton alternative, has been used as a punishment on already detained persons, Taser was meant to be a lethal force substitute, but soon became a compliance and punishment device often used contrary to medical guidelines.

    A macho, misogynist, racially biased bunch. They do some work most of us would prefer not to, but some of that really could be handled by tow truck drivers, paramedics, a proper mental health service, well funded civil defence services and housing for all!

    Lets see if Mr Coster has effected any change to this pile of after his 5 years are up. Most Commissioners leave broken men or under a cloud of some sort.

  3. Police have an impossible job, they have to look the devil in the eye every day. Middle class liberals forget that there are predators out there. A lot of people get away with shit, even killing without penalty (e.g. the careless driver who killed my cousin’s daughter) and the police are often the only voice for the victims.

    Instead of cost cutting and then blaming the cops for their lack of capability perhaps we should resource them properly and help the force to recruit & retain skilled back office people, so that leaks and pratfalls become a thing of the past.

    • lprent 3.1

      Instead of cost cutting and then blaming the cops for their lack of capability perhaps we should resource them properly and help the force to recruit & retain skilled back office people, so that leaks and pratfalls become a thing of the past.

      That is what I'd like to do. Of course that would involve not letting National back into power.

      Whenever the police get resourcing (typically when National is out of power) they tend to get a whole lot better at basic policing.

      They also have a countervailing thing that happens when they have more resources of setting up wastrel specialist units with nothing to do. That happened after September 11th 2001 and there were some appalling cases after that of police chasing various types of protest and social activists – mainly because they needed target practice. The Special Investigation Group was particularly obnoxious.

      The Operation 8 fiasco also comes to mind.

      • KJT 3.1.1

        A distressing trend is an apparent change in emphasise within the police hierarchy.

        From "Protecting the public" which is admirable to "protecting themselves from the public". Hence the US style attempts at out weaponing the "opposition".

  4. adam 4

    Well said lprent.

    The new Armed Response Teams are a good example of this archaic militia mentality – called out somthing like 50 times more often than the Armed Offenders Squads.

    Police have been pretty piss poor when they have guns in their hands. They last police shooting on the east coast, the guy had been shot in the back.

    It's a cultural thing as well, the thin blue line conspiracy theory they keep telling themselves. This really needs to stop. People have a tendency to react to how they are treated, and if the police stopped being paranoid, they might just find they have a public which will help them.

  5. mpledger 5

    The two policemen who rammed the terrorist's car and dragged him out of car and arrested him have my greatest admiration. That took a lot of guts and showed the highest level of duty.

    • RedLogix 5.1

      Indeed. The vast majority of cops do difficult dirty work that most of us here who like to demonise them from behind our comfy keyboards wouldn't last 10 minutes at.

      Fair go when they fuck up, as all human institutions do, but some of ill-informed spray you see coming from the left is arrant nonsense.

      • lprent 5.1.1

        The vast majority of cops do difficult dirty work….

        Sure. I have to say that when I deal with individual police, with a few notable exceptions, I haven't had any particular issues. When I was working bars, they were my favourite people to have around. When I have dealt with the various issues around our 61 apartments – they have been great.

        But when I'm looking at their handling of the usual societal shifts as expressed in the courts then even the legal system moves faster. FFS the courts – not the police – are meant to be the generational anchor in society.

        I simply don't think much of the police organisation or their organisation's basic understanding of legal issues for anything beyond the simple when taking charges before the courts. There appears to be way too much autonomy scattered amongst an incoherent unrestructured militia organisation that belongs in the 19th century.

        That has nothing much to do with individual police – apart from the level of protection that some police have who shouldn't be in the police.

        Which is really the point that I'm making in this post. I think that is structural issue that has been largely avoided by successive police commissioners for my entire adult life.

      • KJT 5.1.2

        There are some very good individual cops, sure, they may even be in the majority.

        When I see them, too often harassing brown kids for the crime of being brown, and driving a car, and the disregard for their rights, so often, there is definitely an attitude problem amongst way too many. It appears to be an institutional disregard for the law rather than individual cops. It contrasts markedly to their reaction to me in my "white man in a suit" mode.

        The "left" are not wrong about the authoritarian attitude and the general contempt for rules restricting police powers, when police think they can get away with it.

        The right wing is, of course, OK with criminalising silly teenagers and assaulting suspects, so long as they are not wealthy white kids.

        Part of it I think is the lack of maturity and training of young police recruits. It is a job which requires a large degree of maturity, patience and tolerance. Something I don’t think their recruitment process, addresses.

    • Chris 5.2

      But that's what they love doing. The difference is that this time they were doing the work of the angels so they’re heroes. No doubt an opportunity to beat the fuck out of someone with impunity. They must've thought all their Christmases had come at once.

  6. Thanks LPrent – echoes my experiences ans prejudices vs police

  7. Ad 7

    I don't care about the structural moves or internal politics.

    I want to see the crime stats published loud and clear, by District, just like the DHB's.

    Compared to the last 12 months, crime is substantially up.


    • RedLogix 7.1

      That is an unhappy surprise. The general trend globally since a peak in the 70's has seen crime decrease year on year. Is this year's increase statistical noise or an indicator of some underlying change? And is this unique to NZ or are we seeing something similar everywhere?

      This really does deserve some serious hard headed analysis (as distinct from self serving ideological waffle). What has gone wrong in just the past year?

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