Editorial: Slow progress

If the aim of the authors of the latest report into the New Zealand police was to stick a rocket under the collective bottom of police management, they certainly achieved it.

That said, it is difficult to come away from reading the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the progress of police reform without a degree of sympathy for officers.

The report for the State Services Commission is the third in a series which measures progress towards a culture shift in the force. The need for change was identified by the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct which was prompted by revelations about serious sexual misconduct in the force.

The latest report is explosive. It found that while positive progress had been made towards changing the culture of the force had been made, that effort had now reached a plateau, and, to paraphrase, the authors had grown impatient that management changes were progressing at a snail's pace.

That means nepotism, discrimination against women and poor performance among senior staff remain problems in the force. Underperformers are not being tackled and much greater urgency was needed to change the culture of police.

The report claimed an immediate scalp, that of deputy commissioner Rob Pope, and united police management and the frontline officers' union – the Police Association – in their defence of the force and criticism of the findings. Commissioner Howard Broad, who is in his final months at the top of the force, described the report as a "slapping" that had the potential to harm morale. That would be a fair summation.

While the force's most senior managers are on the way out, this is not where the problem lies, according to the report.

Middle management in the police attracts the most flak for being slow to change. While the report's authors said they were impressed by the level of candour from officers interviewed, they had grown impatient with police saying that change would be slow and was likely to be "generational".

They found that senior management in the police lacked the confidence and adeptness to make "bold circuit-breaking and symbolic moves" to change the force's culture.

The report gives notice that senior police are being held to account for the changes they need to make, and it is not enough to simply make the right noises and get on with the job.

It is easy to understand police frustration at the report. It is full of its fair share of management gobbledegook – police need to step through a process of change management from "atomise to consolidate" – for example. There is also a danger that the authors are being held captive by the whingers and the haters. You do not have to look far in any organisation to find malcontents, and there is certainly no shortage in the police force which has, by its nature, to have a conservative and fairly rigid structure.

The force is not Google or Facebook, or a management consultancy full of creative thinkers. Police have to brave individuals who have to deal with crime, loss and some of the worst aspects of human nature, every day. They have to be scrupulously honest, tolerant and compassionate. They also have to catch the baddies.

There is no systemic corruption in the force. Our police, by and large, do a good job.

The organisation is trying hard to change, but needs to try harder. It's a message which will surely be heard by the new management.

The Timaru Herald