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The Policing Bill and officially ordered cowardice

  • June 12th, 2008

 The weekend’s shameful behaviour of the Police and ambulance service to the Singh family of Manurewa prompted me to have an overdue look at Annette King’s Policing Bill, reported back from the Law and Order Select Committee this week. The Bill too is deplorable. Somewhere in the last 15 years New Zealand policing has lost its way, and instead of trying to correct that, the Bill cements in place the new model.

We needed inspiring words. There are fears of political corruption at the highest levels in the police (Labour’s immunity from prosecution), and headlines run for months revealing bad character and incompetence. The times call for a Bill with an uplifting vision of policing.

The Bill goes in the opposite direction. There is absolutely nothing in it about selfless service, nothing to inspire, nothing to recognise that without public willingness to enforce the law, and to take risks themselves there can never be enough police to protect the helpless and the innocent from thugs. Nothing in it recognises that we ordinary citizens will come to the aid of the Police when they need it, only if we feel there is reciprocity, only if we feel that we ought to, because that is what the Police are willing to do for us.

There is nothing to balance the last two decade’s dreary elevation of personal safety above all other values, nothing to put back on their pedestals “foolish” courage, and initiative, nothing to honour the nobility of self sacrifice.

Of course these values have not been lost among emergency service workers. The problem is that their bosses value other things more.

This is a big topic. I’ll set the scene in this post and conclude later. I’ve always tried not to criticise if I could not propose a constructive solution. That was how I worked as an MP. So we’ll get to my remedy last.

We inherited from Britain a then novel and fantastically successful civilian model of policing. Sir Robert Peel was determined to avoid the evils from using the soldiery to repress crime. Essentially the Police were there to stimulate, and to ensure, citizen self policing of civil behaviour. Constables were neighbours doing full-time what every decent citizen could and would do when necessary.

The “Peelers” were to command public support by moral claim.  The claim was to be founded on their courtesy and respect for even the most humble of citizens, and the law. Like firemen, they gained it, for the obvious devotion to duty, and willingness to sacrifice themselves for others.

Here’s the philosohy, extracted from  the influential 1829 formulation of Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles of policing, by the first (London) Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne.

1  To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.

2 To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

3 To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.

4 …

5 To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but  …, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.

6 ….

7 To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

8 ….

To my astonishment the Cabinet Policy Committee Minute of 19 September 2007 shows a government poised to rejuvenate that model. In approving the drafting instructions for the Policing Bill they record:

6 agreed to recognise that policing is a shared responsibility, which takes place in a networked and cooperative policing environment, by referencing in legislation the fact that:

1. all citizens can help uphold the law, keep the peace, prevent crime and crashes, and bring offenders to justice;

2. local authorities can work with police to support the social well-being of communities….

8 agreed that the following principles of policing in New Zealand should guide the drafting of the Policing Bill:

•1.    reflecting the tradition of policing with public support and cooperation


So how did those instructions emerge in the Bill?

Here are the relevant extracts from  the Policing Bill as reported back by Parliament’s Law and Order Select Committee this week:

8 Principles This Act is based on the following principles:

(a) ….

(b) effective policing relies on a wide measure of public support and confidence:

(c) ….

10 Roles of others acknowledged

(1) It is acknowledged that important and valuable roles in the performance of the functions of the Police are played by:

(a) public agencies or bodies

(b) the holders of certain statutory offices (for example Maori wardens); and

(c) parts of the private sector (e.g. the private security industry).

(2) It is also acknowledged that it is often appropriate, or necessary, for the Police to perform some of its functions in cooperation with individual citizens, or agencies, or bodies other than the Police.

The Bill has turned Sir Robert Peel’s principles on their head. Instead of public involvement being at the heart of policing, the public are in the subordinate role of “support”. We are to have “confidence”.  Instead of steering Police toward partnership with the public, so that support is mutual, it “acknowledges” that Police are part of a state apparatus which is to work together to rule the rest of us.

The grudging “acknowledgement” that sometimes police must work in “cooperation” with individuals is a mockery of the principles which so distinguished British citizenship and policing from the continental models 170 years ago.



… Interestingly Stephen Franks drops a few of Richard Mayne’s principles from his extract: 4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective. 8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty. 9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
These are, of course, as relevant as the others. Unfortunately the time has long gone when the ‘Met’ has widespread public support and certainly avoids such detailed principles in its current operations but a challenge to the New Zealand Police Commissioner Howard Broad is to identify what he thinks the police should be doing and how well he thinks it is doing it.

[David – Thanks, I should have done at first what I’ve now done and inserted a link to a site with various formulations. The post was (and is) too long, which was my reason for truncation]

  • Jim Maclean
  • June 12th, 2008
  • 10:40 am

As always in these matters Stephen Franks has identified the issues, researched them well and summarised them brilliantly.
There will always be people with different opinions and ideas but for what it is worth, on this issue Stephen Franks speaks for me and he does it eloquently and well.
I could not care less what Howard Broad thinks, the attempt by the Police Executive to defend the indefensible in this case mean he should resign.

  • Chuck Bird
  • June 13th, 2008
  • 5:06 pm

Now that Susan Couch has been allowed to sue Department of Corrections for damages maybe the Singh family be able to sue the police for gross negligency in carrying out their duty.

  • TumYum
  • June 13th, 2008
  • 7:24 pm

Well done Stephen, you have encapsulated what has for me been a growing sense of unease regarding the fundamentals in this area. For me it goes back to the Springbok tour (I was 18 then) and has been quietly nagging (and growing) ever since. It’s beyond clowns, speedgate, paintergate, emailgate and what I’m sure will be countless election finance issues. Its more than parole hearings, cell phones, smacking, sensible sentencing and revenue gathering. It’s a deeply fundamental debate about how we want to live. Hopefully you have laid a foundation for thoughtful, considered debate. I look forward to it. Thanks for kicking it off so well.


Tom Lewis (17 years in CIB) foretold our present problems with the police 15 years ago in “Coverups and Copouts”.
His solution: a return to local cops.
At present, the police are “faceless people to the public at large. They are just people who turn up at in uniforms to record the details of a crime… when they are finished, they disappear once more. Why should the public trust them?…
Not so the local cop. They can talk to him in confidence because he is one of them.”

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