Editorial: Police should heed poll

Last updated 05:00 15/10/2013

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When 37 constables graduated from the Royal New Zealand Police College last week, women won the top three awards and the leadership award.

Constable Veronica Benton-Guy, who has a BSc (Hons), said she had always wanted to be a police officer "and I'm looking forward to making a difference in the community". She and her fellow graduates should aspire to make a difference within the police force, too, by helping to improve its public image.

A commission of inquiry into the police's handling of sexual assault complaints and the organisational culture of the police, following accusations against police officers and the jailing of some for raping a woman in the Bay of Plenty in 1989, made 47 recommendations.

A year ago, a progress report said the agency had fully implemented just seven of them.

Acting Police Commissioner Viv Rickard was sanguine, saying the commission had been clear that changing the actions and behaviours in the police force would take 10 years.

In recent weeks, nevertheless, a senior police officer has apologised for describing a 10-year-old rape victim as a "willing" participant in her sexual abuse. The comments were made in a letter to the rapist's wife.

This, and other incidents that dismay the public, would have influenced the thousands of New Zealanders who last week cast a vote of no confidence in the police.

The poll was not sophisticated. It was conducted in tandem with The Vote, a monthly TV3 current affairs show, after a somewhat raw debate that weighed the police's performance in keeping us safe and enforcing the law against evidence of misconduct and ineptitude.

When invited to give their verdict, 56 per cent of viewers said the police were losing their trust. The police's own public survey reportedly found 79 per cent of respondents had "full" or "quite a lot" of trust in them.

The heroism of the likes of Constable Deane O'Connor, who leapt into Tauranga harbour from a bridge to save a car crash victim from drowning, typically wins widespread admiration, and we again were reminded of the dangers of policing when Constable Todd Martin was stabbed in Auckland last week.

But police should not take it for granted that the kudos and sympathy they win in those circumstances will outweigh the concerns raised by too many other incidents.

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- Waikato Times

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