Commission of Inquiry recommendations will be implemented

  • Annette King

Police Minister Annette King says all the recommendations directly affecting police in the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct report will be implemented, and NZ Police are already working in many of the areas identified by Commissioner Dame Margaret Bazley.

“Of the 60 recommendations, 48 directly relate to NZ Police, and the other 12 to the Police Complaints Authority. I am really encouraged that police have already begun acting across a range of complex issues, and Dame Margaret has recognised this in her report.”

The Commission’s report has been a massive exercise, covering 25 years of policing since 1979, she says. “I am impressed with the scope, depth and thoroughness of the investigation, and with the common sense approach demonstrated in the recommendations.”

Ms King says a number of important steps can be taken immediately or very soon to support the recommendations. These include:

·Implementation of a code of conduct for sworn staff. “I have advocated this since I became Minister, and a draft code has now been drawn up as part of the rewriting of the Police Act 1958.” The Police Association agreed to a code of conduct during industrial negotiations completed last year.

·Drawing up of new Police Regulations that revoke the disciplinary tribunal system, and that implement a best practice State sector disciplinary system based on the code of conduct, and in keeping with the principles of fairness and natural justice as part of the employment relationship.

·Implementation of an early warning system to identify officers “at risk” of inappropriate behaviour.

·Asking the State Services Commissioner to carry out an annual “health of the organisation” audit of police culture. The State Services Commissioner is already investigating the feasibility of doing so.

·Asking the Controller and Auditor-General to monitor for the next 10 years NZ Police implementation of the COI recommendations.

“There are also important recommendations in the report relating to the way police communicate with complainants and to ensure that there is no question about the independence of investigating officers. Police have already implemented a ‘five step best practice model’ in communicating with complainants about investigation of their complaints, and police are also in the process of developing consistent and transparent practices to ensure independence.

“All these recommendations I have singled out are very important steps, and they reflect ongoing work within NZ Police to ensure best practice, and also a willingness within the police service to build an organisation that police staff feel proud and safe to work in, and in which New Zealanders generally can have confidence.”

Ms King says there can be no tolerance for the sort of examples, identified by Dame Margaret, of ‘disgraceful conduct by police officers and associates over the period from 1979, involving the exploitation of vulnerable people’.

“Such examples of sexual misconduct, and inadequate investigation of some complaints, were indeed disgraceful when they occurred, and would be disgraceful at any time, but we can all be encouraged that Dame Margaret found that only a small number of officers were involved in such behaviour at the time, that there was no evidence of a concerted attempt across the organisation to cover up such behaviour, and that there have been significant improvements in standards and practices over the past 25 years.”

Ms King says both police staff and the public will welcome Dame Margaret’s assertion that New Zealanders ‘can have confidence in the calibre of police investigations into allegations of sexual assault by police officers and police associates’.

“My hope is that this vote of confidence will make New Zealanders, particularly women, feel reassured and safe about reporting sexual violence offences, and I am sure it will do much for the morale of police generally.

“There are clearly areas that need addressing or are being addressed. They include those I have already mentioned, like developing national consistency around investigating such offences, improving communication with complainants, and ensuring that investigating officers are always seen to be independent. But they also include developing formal guidelines defining inappropriate personal relationships, enhancing ethics training, and also stepping up efforts to recruit greater numbers of women staff,” she says.

“I know NZ Police share the Government’s view that there need to be more women in police, and that we also need greater representation across ethnic minorities. The current recruiting drive to add 1000 more frontline sworn police over three years, in line with our supply and confidence agreement with NZ First, gives us the ideal opportunity to do just that.”

Ms King says publication of the report has been awaited with huge interest by the public, but also by the police.

“It is easy to underestimate the impact the past three years have had on police morale. The behaviour of a few officers has cast doubt on the integrity of the vast majority of staff. Dame Margaret has condemned the actions of the few, but the vast majority of the police can hold their heads high after this report.

“We have an excellent police service that New Zealanders can trust. And it will be an even better service in the future as it puts in place the new practices and policies discussed in this report, and debated among police themselves over the past three years.”

Contact: John Harvey (04) 470 9305; John Saunders (04)470 6851