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March 10, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Appraising Aotearoa’s Police

At the Wellington Queer Fair a week ago, a group of police officers were present to make sure religious preachers didn’t get all up in our face. While I’m sure the drag queens in attendance could have defended us all (never fuck with a drag queen), the police are trained to deal with these things while keeping a maximum of calm, which we appreciate. That they take on roles such as this demonstrates the maturity of our police: they must always move with the developing needs of the wider community. The police’s increasing role in resolving domestic violence is perhaps the most significant development towards this end.

So I respect the police, but I do not trust them. Police officers have more power than ordinary citizens, and when you give a large group of people power over others, you can be fairly certain that some will abuse it. Much of what the Police have done over the last year has confirmed my mistrust. The fact that Clint Rickards was able to walk away from the force with a golden handshake the day before he was set to face a disciplinary hearing is deeply worrying. Many more officers involved in covering up the police sex crimes investigation have similarly been able to walk away.

Even more worrying is the (largely unreported) raid carried out on a Taupo Maori Women’s Refuge last October by six armoured police accompanied by dogs. The police said they had information that one of the occupants was smoking cannabis; members of the activist community have told us the raids were really because one of the occupants had helped organise marches against the previous “terror raids” on activists earlier that month. While this sounds a little too much like a conspiracy theory, at least it makes more sense than the official police explanation.

In 2003, members of Dunedin NORML smoked cannabis at the local police station. The police made no arrests, saying they had higher priorities. Now NORML organise public smokings every Friday, and again the police say they have better things to do. If arresting us largely privileged activists is not in the public interest, then how is it sensible to arrest a traumatised woman in a safe-house for the same crime? After all, our policing guidelines are still based upon the Peelian Principles which, as Police National HQ have previously told me, encourage refraining from making an arrest when that arrest is not in the public’s interest. That the police did not consult Women’s Refuge about the raid demonstrates a certain arrogance.

Despite the mounds of vitriol written on the earlier “terror raids” they are worthy of discussion here. On the face of it, the police had good reason to act, as they believed they had uncovered the stockpiling of semi-automatic weapons. I wholeheartedly agree with Bomber Bradbury that “No social justice activist has any right to pick up a gun in NZ!” (although I would add “unless they are out hunting for their food.” And no, “Pakeha” does not count as a legitimate hunting target). Yet the arrogant nature in which the Special Investigation Group carried out these raids undermines their case. Several pages of the notorious affadavit (used to obtain warrants for the raids) are devoted to explaining the beliefs of Tuhoe sovereignty activists as if their desire for self-determination is itself a crime. I don’t want to see Aotearoa split apart, but that doesn’t mean I can just call those who disagree with me terrorists.

Furthermore, while many of the statements made by suspects in the affadavit are unpalatable, I have hitched rides with South Island farmers who have said far worse things about what they’d like to do to Helen Clark. They also own guns (usually for valid reasons), but because they have no strong political ideals they are not considered suspect. Finally, we have the fact that former Police College patron Moana Jackson resigned his patronage since, despite having spent years developing a relationship between the police and iwi liaison officers, the police did not consult these liaison officers to make sure their Ruatoki raid did not victimise the wider Tuhoe community. Again, this demonstrate a certain arrogant belief that the police do not need to work with communities.

Thus, what began as a serious concern for people’s safety degenerated into a farcical reenactment of 1916, when the police also raided the Ureweras to arrest another firebrand, Rua Kenana, since he wouldn’t support the war effort. But the biggest barrier to effective policing is not so much the behaviour of the police, which varies from officer to officer, as the existence of unenforcable, counterproductive laws which create mistrust of the police but which our politicians are too timid to repeal (I am of course primarily talking about the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975). In the end, we owe it to our cops to remove unenforcable laws, just as they owe it to us to listen to our concerns.

The police have made steps to become capable guardians of all New Zealanders regardless of race, wealth, gender or ideology, but for every step forward they seem to take another step back into gung-ho boys’ brigade mode. It may be tempting to respond to their mistakes by calling the entire force pigs. Don’t. As long as there are people in our society who insist on hurting others (and humanity’s capacity to shit on people is by now well established), we rely upon our police. We must remain vigilant in critising their fuck-ups, but when they do their job well they deserve our respect. It is, after all, a pretty shitty job, getting bottled on Courtenay Place and standing in the middle of domestic rows.

In this issue, Jenna’s article looks at the experience of police officers around Wellington, while Kerry’s article looks at the experiences of those arrested in the terror raids. I have included these two pieces together in an attempt to get a balanced look at Aotearoa’s policing system. In a year where law and order policies – especially those directed at youth (i.e. us) – are dominating election


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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