There’s something odd going on in the New Zealand Police at the moment. They know they’ve been caught out – and highly publicly, too.
This, in and of itself, is not entirely out of the ordinary. In a string of instances ranging from last summer’s “zero tolerance” speed limit policing through to much earlier (and arguably more dangerous) issues around their chopper-borne Rambo-raids of Kim DotCom’s mansion … they’ve found themselves to be exposed.
But whereas in those instances the Police and the politicians were able to attempt to deflect criticism by presenting a united front and claiming things were ‘off limits’ due to being “an operational matter”, this is different.
Caught out in what noted criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert quite rightly states to be a move whose “intent [and] language would have impressed George Orwell”, both the police and the politicians are blaming each other.
What’s happened, is the Police have started rolling out “research contracts” which academics using police data apparently have to sign. If the Police don’t like what you write, these contracts give them the power to veto you publishing – or, at the very least, to work with you to “improve its outcomes” [i.e. make them sound less “negative”].
Don’t abide by their conditions? You’ll find yourself “blacklisted”, and unable to access any further police data – which, as Dr Gilbert points out, is kinda a crippling restriction if you’re a research-academic specializing in criminology or policing matters.
So why are these somewhat draconian (because dragons are all about guarding and hoarding secrets) restrictions in place.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, as Green Party Police Spokesman David Clendon put it, that the “Minister sets policy which police then implement”. It’s entirely plausible given O’Connor’s wording about Police commissioners being “[just as] answerable to Ministers as any other CEO in the public sector” (itself a worrying neoliberalist creep/infiltration of corporate terms) that the policy is actually something that’s been cooked up in-house and run with the tacit approval of the Police’s political managers – rather than being a Woodhouse-authored directive that Police are simply all too happy to carry out.
Either way, there’s a culture of secrecy and standoffishiness within the Police that’s aided and abetted by their blue-wearing friends in high places. Just remember the furore from former Minister of Police Judith Collins castigating critics of the police … and, for that matter, the rest of the justice system … for *daring* to hold Police to account and insist they actually follow the law when carrying out undercover operations (rather than, say, mercilessly forging court documents). In that instance, politicians protected police from embarrassment. Or at least, attempted to.
To witness this “special relationship” in action going the other way, look no further than the time Judith Collins protected Police over – proven – allegations that they’d manipulated crime statistics in order to make themselves and their political paymasters look good.
It was a relationship that benefited everybody (except, of course, for the poor long-suffering public and victims of crime). The Government got to trumpet claims that it had presided over and contributed to a drop in crime. The police got to say they were doing their jobs and meeting public service sector performance targets better than before.
So naturally, when concerns were raised that the Police’s efforts and crime stats might in fact have proven to be illusory, the relevant Minister decided not to look into claims the stats had been manipulated lest the Government find things they didn’t like.
Starting to get the picture here?
There is very much a two-way relationship between the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand National Party. They each work together to cover each other’s backs and to make the other partner look good. They’ve got it down to such a fine art that they don’t even necessarily need to sotto-voce instruct one another to make this happen. When something happens that might embarrass the Police, certain parts of the Government will step in or look the other way to ensure it doesn’t untowardly scandalize them (or, heaven forbid, actually provide serious impetus for change). Equally, when the Police turn up something that might take some of the luster out of the Government’s sails, they’ll deliberately hide, lie and obfuscate in order to make sure the “right” outcomes come out for their pals. Not necessarily as an organization, mind – occasionally as isolated individuals or as small-scale units … but the effect is all the same.
This means that when National Party-affiliated individuals like Cameron Slater make police complaints, they get ‘special attention’ from the Police – and a vastly larger share of Police resources allocated to their issues into the bargain.
So I think we can all agree that some serious questions need to start being asked about the nature and extent of the obvious “special relationship” between the Police and the National Party.
Unfortunately, any such untoward collusion will be very difficult to prove – as Police Association President Greg O’Connor warns, they’ll have taken serious pains to ensure the relevant information will be well “hidden” from public scrutiny.