NZ police: Do the ends justify the means?

RICHARD BOOCK
Last updated 05:00 30/10/2012

Let's start with this. If we have to make a choice between having a bunch of P dealers running about the place or a police force that believes it's above the law, I'd much rather have the former. In fact, unequivocally so. As much as we might owe our constabulary a vote of thanks for its work, we owe an even bigger one to those gutsy enough to keep it on the straight and narrow. Individuals such as Justice Simon France.

Goodness knows why some folk have rubbished the High Court judge for throwing out charges against gang members and associates on the grounds police acted unlawfully. He's done us all a favour. Fair enough, people might fear the presence of criminals in their community but the much bigger threat is a rogue police force. Why? Simply because it has the power, capability and influence to cause much more damage than any random crook.

How short our memories are on this sort of thing. If anyone seriously doubts what's at stake here they need to re-familiarise themselves with the state of Queensland policing through the 70s and 80s under premier "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen. Couldn't help but think back to him the other day as Minister of Police Anne Tolley effectively brushed off a series of dodgy and unlawful acts commited by her Organised and Financial Crime Agency (OFCANZ).

Big Joh? At first he was just a politician, sympathetic with the police point of view. Before long Queensland was a police state. Special Branch officers were spying on opposition politicians and reporting, not to their superiors but to Bejelke-Petersen himself. A subsequent inquiry uncovered widespread corruption and a police force that was a law unto itself. The police commissioner went to jail, along with several other high-ranking officials and politicians.

Those who back the police to get the job done whatever the means need to think again about what they're suggesting. It's not as if the New Zealand police are immune to the type of criminal dysfunction experienced by Queensland; a stream of recent debacles insists that's not the case. And let's not forget Dame Margaret Bazley's commission of inquiry revelations: a culture of abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and lying through omission.

The funniest part of the response to Justice France's decision has to be the language used by police apologists to describe the illegal activity undertaken. Supporters of Bejelke-Petersen were doubtless employing similar sophistry back in the 70s. Police "errors? "Misunderstandings"? They were nothing of the kind. Criminal Bar Association President and former cop, Tony Bouchier, was in "no doubt" they involved criminal offending.

Inevitably, whenever this issue arises, there'll be those who smugly ask: "so, who are you going to call when your property or life is threatened?" Which is entirely my point, really. Police already enjoy an overwhelming sense of trust in the community. They're already seen as representing the values of the community; as being on the side of "right". They already get the benefit of the doubt. All the more important, then, that they continue to deserve it.

Last thing: generally speaking, criminals within gangs are relatively easy to spot. You're unlikely to mistakenly invite one into your living room. Whether they deal in meth, stolen property, protection rackets or violence, they tend to look and act the part. That's precisely why the police wanted to arrange a bogus conviction for their undercover agent; to boost his street cred. To make him seem unsavoury and shady enough to be convincing.

When the crims are wearing police uniforms, though? Well, that's when things become really dangerous.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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