David Farrar has already demonstrated that the Police are back on about speeding again. The Police briefing for incoming minister has asked for them to get a lot more money and people, surprise surprise. This is something the public tend to LIKE, but is also fraught with danger.
Now, as everyone says, the Police have a hard job, but politicians have a harder job making them accountable. The Police are not easy for accountability, partially because:
1. Most people love them, they perform duties few of us would want to do ourselves, and they are essential to a peaceful and free society – and they know it and they know how to pull on public heartstrings. Much of the time they do their job very well;
2. It is a highly unionised profession, meaning they stick together to protect each other. This is a mentality that suits the job they do, but means when anyone is out of line, there is some willingness to cover each other’s trails. This is not a place to be too independently minded.
3. Management of the Police is in house. In other words, military like, every level of the Police hierarchy is managed by cops – not managers. Companies run by the core staff are often far from successful – airlines used to be run by airline people until it was realised that professional managers were needed – people who are not sentimentally attached to parts of the operation and who can ask the hard questions. Hospitals are the same by the way, they shouldn’t be run by GPs.
4. There is no competition or threat of competition.
Having said that the NZ Police are light years ahead of many of their overseas counterparts, although in some cases that hasn’t been hard.
The main risks that the Police present are:
1. Poor performance: Not responding to what the public – taxpayers- demand of them. This is responding to incidents that threaten themselves, their families or their property. This does not mean sending for a taxi for a distressed woman or not responding to 111 calls. The flak over this is a systematic lack of performance incentives – and the union and organisation will say this is too hard.
2. Lack of budget control: What the Police want, the Police get. The INCIS project is the classic example, no proper management and money just going down the plughole to IBM for a system that ultimately was not delivered. Anytime a politician considers making the Police more efficient, the Police stick together and say “that means removing a community constable from Manurewa” or whatever. The Police always say budget cuts affect the frontline, so the administrative overheads continue to blowout.
3. Police threat to individual liberty: As the frontline of the monopoly of legitimised state violence, the Police have powers to initiate force against New Zealanders. They should, of course, do this very sparingly, with priority on cases when there are victims or potential victims – and not at all in other cases. The Police always claim they enforce the law, but for many many years they have done this selectively. They are tough on drugs, but I don’t see them following around teenage girls to check if their boyfriends are 16 and over and breaking the Crimes Act with them. They ceased routinely enforcing the law against homosexual acts a few years before it was repealed. The Police can change their law enforcement emphasis – but all in all, they always advocate more power and discretion. If the Police had their way we would all have ID cards, electronic tracking devices attached to us at all times that they could check up on, and CCTV cameras on every street corner. The Police would also change the burden of proof so you are guilty till proven innocent. Don’t have any doubts about it, the term Police state isn’t something many of them think is a bad thing, and if you spent half your day dealing with lowlifes, you might have some sympathy for that.
So what have the cops asked for?
A need to increase frontline response and investigator numbers.
Attrition is 350-400 a year, so the Police propose double that recruitment rate per annum. Of course the actual numbers needed are not suggested, so that the numbers could presumably grow ad infinitum, along with the budget. Of course, they could stop enforcing victimless crimes, though Libertarianz is not in government.
A need to reduce staff safety risks, bolster field supervision and improve investigation file quality for Court with more sworn positions at Sergeant and Senior Sergeant level.
These are several different things, but this means more money to promote experienced cops.
Considering next steps in areas of road policing enforcement alongside education and engineering options
Here the cops take the easy out – lowering speed limits, blood alcohol limits and more use of speed enforcement and tougher sanctions. Now given Transit and the Police recently admitted that in one location (Tokoroa-Taupo) speed wasn’t the key factor, it seems that as speed enforcement is really easy, they want to slow everyone down.
My view is that the biggest road safety problem comes down to punishment – people who kill others on the road due to stupidity should be banned from driving, for life. If you can’t stay on your side of the road, or obey a red light – then tough – and if you are caught driving again, you get imprisoned, for trespass. In a world of private roads, an unauthorised driver would be trespassing – but in New Zealand, it is a far bigger offence to be smoking cannabis than it is to be an idiot driving a car and killing someone. Speeding is an issue, on some roads in some conditions, but it is an attitude in New Zealand that you can’t punish bad driving – but you can punishing breaking rules. I don’t care if this means underprivileged stupid people are in prison for reckless driving causing death – better that than them being in prison for having the odd joint!
and the Police? Abolish victimless crimes, to give the Police more chance to follow real crimes -and make them locally accountable. Split the Police into several dozen precincts, each individually accountable to an electable sheriff - maybe not as many precincts as there are local authorities, but somewhere around 40. Then bulk fund according to the local population, let the Police pursue the local priorities, and anything that goes across precincts can remain the purview of a centralised investigation unit. Now that would be a change!