The Dangers of Conning Oneself

The Dangers of Conning Oneself

Opinion piece in response to article written by Sam Sherwood, journalist for the Stuff NZ


As the expected chilly wind blew through Wellington and the Beehive, an excellent piece of investigative journalism was about to hit the front page, the details of which would have already been known to senior police chiefs and most probably the Minister of Police, and therefore the Cabinet. Something killed it dead in the corridors of power and it wasn’t the wind; could it have been that on an international populist stage it just couldn’t stack up to taking your baby to the UN, banning plastic bags, or romantic engagements? Afterall, it is bad news versus good news!

There would have been the ubiquitous defence response from within; that this was of the Police’s own making and they can take the flak for it, no further contagion thanks. The result? Police took to defending themselves pointing the strategic finger elsewhere, using language that fell straight into the empty domestic political space where the omnipresent opposition should have been, but weren’t. Luckily it was caught by the waiting hands of a rare commodity these days, an investigative journo.

So, what is the story? Well, initially it is very straight forward. Female motorcyclist stops to let two elderly people with pedal cycles use a crossing at an intersection in Christchurch. The following car takes offence, driver gets out, violently threatens and abuses the motorcyclist. He drives off. Motorcyclist, who has previously been a domestic violence victim, gets the rego. Driver realises, stops again and follows it up with a second threatening attack. Victim who is reduced to tears, reports the offence to police complete with excellent descriptions, evidence and witness statements.

To the general public who put our politicians in power, this reads as a straight, ‘walk up’ matter for Police, not an urgent matter, but one that needs to be dealt with appropriately. What the victim didn’t know was that Police policy in Canterbury had changed. From one where they dealt with matters of a violent nature, to one of just not dealing with it and closing the case. A policy had evolved which allowed supervising officers to decide what cases to bin, and which would be followed up.

When the victim found out; she thought surely this just cannot be right and contacted the Independent Police Conduct Authority, who, also thought this cannot be right and undertook an investigation. But it was right. Police in Canterbury were just closing files even where there were good leads. The nascent question forming is, why?

With the policy exposed Police fronted up through local management and curiously the Police Federation, hinting at their defence to come. Their rational is that they were over stretched and therefore had to prioritise work. To be fair here to Police, they are seriously unfunded and have been for a great many years, if not always. Any Police media release goes through corporate communications, so it is important to realise that when they said prioritise, they did not mean ‘handling matters relative to their importance’, they meant completely ignoring some crime as if it never happened. Somebody, somewhere, twisted the meaning of ‘prioritise’ and from there it’s a few short steps to the slippery slopes of losing public confidence.

Step one, which should be at the forefront of any crime prevention manager’s thoughts; victims. The victim’s perception of the event is the one that should be placed front and centre. How was this case disposal arrived at? It stinks of a well-known NZ phrase of, harden the **** up. So, you were scared and made to cry, not good enough for a crime in NZ. They have pretended and conned themselves that there is no victim, especially heinous when there are witnesses and evidence. And to try and justify it by saying that they are over stretched demeans policing globally. Forces in both hemispheres have been decimated whilst demands on them have increased hugely. NZ is no different to any other policing service and it is shameful that they have dumped this case because somebody thinks the crime wasn’t serious enough, and then bleat about their own circumstances in an attempt to justify it once exposed.

With the Justice Review currently taking place one can only wonder why there was no immediate fronting up of either the Policing Minister or Andrew Little. It is a national matter, there is only one police service and they have been cooking the books, with victims at the heart of it. If this can’t get their mouths open what will? The issue of stats is a real concern, were screened out crimes eventually recorded as no crimes or as solved crimes? Whichever one it is it has there are problems with conning yourself, one is a knock-on effect with stats, it can make you appear efficient in other categories when that is not the case. You lose track of what reality is, running the risk of placing other innocents at risk.

Step two. Corruption, code of conduct, or prioritising workloads. Which one is it? Well, we already know the definition of prioritising. As an expert in police code of conduct matters, it is my opinion, from the facts published, it would breach at least one of the codes of conduct in New Zealand, all Australian States, and all 42 Police Forces of the UK. The policy was created, owned and authorised by someone. To fob the matter off with, ‘we can only do so much’ and ‘we are stretched’ places the good work done at the thin blue line in real jeopardy. It is those very officers who police by the public’s consent and they need the support and the confidence of the public to do so. The lack of transparent resolution from the IPCA and Police in relation to conduct looks soft and smells of fudge, which can only add further insult to the victim. Cooking the books has never, and will never work, and leads to loss of confidence. As an example, I asked a serving Australian Police Officer to read the article, his immediate reply was ‘That’s just plain corrupt’. Codes of conduct are there for a reason and they will work against you if the public has no confidence in its transparency.

Finally, leadership. The policy involved is a strategic matter and therefore both Police Chiefs and politicians are directly responsible for it being allowed to be in existence underneath them. All senior officers, irrespective of rank, should be operating on a bottom up top down basis, and there is no excuse for not knowing, especially when it is policy and strategy. At a time when we and the world seem to be obsessed with how great and shiny our leader is, it somehow doesn’t sit quite right with this catastrophic failure happening here and now and on her watch.

Just as concerning though, and possibly more, is when a journalist starts to fill the domestic void where the opposition party should be. It’s the adage of ‘the current government is only as good as the opposition’. If our opposition leader can’t hold our current leader to account for grave failures, then it’s just a matter of time until someone else steps forward who is prepared to do so.

Public perception and trust in the police must in of itself be managed and policed as well as earnt. Maybe, with clear and transparent leadership and time, this victim may once again come to trust and have confidence in them. But I for one, I’m not holding my breath.