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One-sided criticism from a bygone era - Police Commissioner

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Peter Marshall, Police Commissioner

Some of you may have read a recent article by Ross Meurant, a former police officer, in the magazine North & South. It was a one-sided and disparaging account of Police culture which does not reflect the organisation I know.

Mr Meurant left New Zealand Police more than two decades ago, since when the world has changed - and New Zealand Police has also markedly changed.

Somewhere in the vicinity of two-thirds of the 12,000 New Zealand Police personnel have joined the organisation since Mr Meurant left in 1987. Ninety-five percent of recruits from the last three wings to pass through the Royal New Zealand Police College were not born at the time of the 1981 Springbok Tour - a period Mr Meurant deals with in some detail. Today's Police graduates are highly educated, motivated to do what is required in terms of their Police Oath and, importantly, are somewhat fluid in terms of their working life aspirations.

Mr Meurant has made considerable reference to the Arthur Allan Thomas inquiry - I was still at school when that inquiry was under way. The investigation of the murders of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe has been one of the most scrutinised investigations and court processes in New Zealand's history. Mr Meurant wishes us to reopen the case on the strength of "new evidence". As a former detective, he should know unsolved murders always remain open. New evidence is thoroughly investigated.

New Zealand Police deals with, on average, 400,000 cases a year; 70 of those are homicides. Nearly 2000 homicides have been investigated and many more thousands of aggravated robberies, drug importations and major financial crime investigations (to name but some) have been thoroughly and professionally prosecuted in the past 25 years.

New Zealand Police is one of the most audited organisations in the country, whether in terms of the Auditor General's Office, the Independent Police Conduct Authority, or through the requirements arising from Dame Margaret Bazley's Commission of Inquiry.

I am in my 40th year of policing with New Zealand Police. I am conscious that probably fewer than 100 staff - of our 12,000 complement - have more service than me with this organisation. I have been lucky enough to have been seconded to overseas police organisations for a period totalling ten years. I know how good New Zealand Police is. Accordingly, I am in a good position to appreciate the significant differences between Mr Meurant's 1960s and 1970s style of policing and the 21st century style.

With respect, Mr Meurant did not stay with New Zealand Police to make a difference to our organisation. He never undertook a senior supervisory role within New Zealand Police.

His "opinion" dishonours the hundreds of senior supervisors who have worked hard to ensure that New Zealand Police, in today's world, has a trust and confidence rating of 75 percent with the public and has recently been named as New Zealand's most reputable Government department for the second year in a row. The attributes noted include vision, leadership and processes.

It should be noted that New Zealand is the least corrupt country in the world (Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index) and obviously New Zealand Police has had a certain influence in that standing. The crime rate in New Zealand is going down. Trust and confidence are going up.

Little can be gained by "dancing on the graves" of former senior Police officers of a bygone era. In regard to former Commissioner Bob Walton, a man with great integrity - what an untimely attack.

New Zealand Police was formed in 1885 and policing always reflects the society of the day. In Sir Robert Peel's Principles of Law Enforcement it states: "Police are the public and the public are the Police".

Obviously Mr Meurant led an exciting life in a somewhat insular Auckland CIB environment of the 1960s and 1970s. That is well and truly a bygone era. His observations, with respect, reminded me of Rip Van Winkle - but I don't think he has yet woken up.

Today's Police Executive is wide awake. We will not be complacent and we will remain vigilant to ensure we police with the respect and consent of the public.

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