Police tactics reveal a healthy disdain for the rule of law

19:40, Nov 05 2012

Like most New Zealanders of my age I was raised in a lower middle class family that had a basic respect for the police force.

Whatever the events of 1970s and early 1980s - dawn raids on "overstaying" Pacific Island families, the Bastion Point land dispute or the Springbok tour - this respect never wavered.

Mum and Dad might not have voted for Muldoon, but in retrospect could be cast as part of the "silent majority" in a Nixonesque sense, never having their fundamental faith in law and order and its blue uniformed guardians undermined whatever Sir Robert's electorally inspired shenanigans.

As children we were amused by stories told by the police officer who lived across the road, a mild mannered, English-born chap who had no qualms about taking his baton out and demonstrating the proper technique for getting recalcitrant anti-tour protesters, gang members and associated hippies to move on. It was a regret that we didn't see John in action when attending the Bay of Plenty v Springbok match, nor catch a glimpse of him at the ill-fated Waikato game, giving my future lecturers the bash.

As I grew beyond the family's bosom and attended university, I discovered that not everyone had such a rosy view of the constabulary. Many of my peers, more sophisticated political thinkers than me or given to recreational drug use beyond that condoned by the state, saw malice and prejudice in the friendly bobby. I resisted such views, mindful that you could not blame the police themselves for poor laws. In any case I've never socially met a police officer that I didn't like, if not warm to.

Well, if the truth be told there is an exception that proves that rule. But even that rather full of himself gentleman could be redeemed if he stopped compounding the problem of thrashing me on the squash court, with the need to coach me in the changing room afterwards.


Pretty much all individuals who choose to put their lives on the line to protect and serve, to defend the body politic, command sympathy and admiration.

With the negative publicity over the so-called "terrorist" raids and the Kim Dotcom affair poised somewhere between farcical debacle and constitutional crisis, the reputation of the force has taken some body blows in recent times. Not that they themselves have noticed. Citing a survey in an interview last week Deputy Commissioner Mike Bush put his best foot forward, claiming 77 per cent of us have trust and confidence in the New Zealand police.

Frankly, I find such figures hard to swallow. If, as the nation's second-to-top cop suggests, police popularity is "the highest it's ever been" I would hate to live in a time when it was unpopular. For me at least, the current scandal involving illegalities in the investigation of the Red Devils gang is the straw that broke the camel's back.

The revelation that police made the New Zealand courts their plaything, prosecuting an undercover officer under an alias, duping a judge and perjuring themselves under oath, suggests an organisation more indifferent to the law of the land than dedicated to its enforcement.

It demonstrates an arrogant culture of ends justifying means, of men and women so certain they know who the bad guys are that they never for a moment stop and consider that they've themselves crossed that same line and become as morally corrupt as those they seek.

A group of thugs who take a chainsaw to a gang residence without legal authority is no better than a gang itself, albeit one cut far more slack by the judiciary, the politicians and the public than any other criminal grouping.

Until such time as those police officers who have broken the law are themselves brought before the courts, we are left with a curious double standard that puts intent before action.

This is a scenario akin to a Monopoly board's "get out of jail free" card, where the police have unfettered rein to do what they like merely because their hearts are thought to be in the right place.

Showing a commitment to statistics consistent with an organisation latterly given to "lies" and "damn lies", Deputy Commissioner Bush asks us to put the Urewera Raids, the Dotcom affair and the Red Devils skullduggery into the wider context of 130,000 successful prosecutions last year.

However, taken individually the scandals beg significant, inquiry-worthy questions about police practice. Considered collectively they undermine the faith of a generation.