Part 2: Our view on the Police's response to the Commission of Inquiry

Response of the New Zealand Police to the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct: Final monitoring report

In this Part we discuss:

The Police's response to the recommendations has matured over time

During the 10 years we have been monitoring the Police's progress, their approach to carrying out the Commission's recommendations has matured. We have never doubted the Police's commitment to making change, but we sometimes expressed concern about the pace and extent of change.

From 2012, the Police were changing from a compliance approach to acting on the recommendations. For example, the Police focused on all victims of crime under their "Policing Excellence"3 approach to prevention. This meant that the Police had now integrated the Commission's victim-focused recommendations into wider organisational plans.

Under the current Commissioner of Police, we have seen the Police become more values-driven. We have seen how the Police's "prevention-first" approach informs the way they recruit new people and train staff members. The approach also informs the policies and procedures they have established for dealing with complaints. The Police's efforts are creating a culture that actively discourages the behaviours and attitudes that led to the Commission's investigation. The Police have the characteristics of a professional public service organisation.

The Police have done much work to achieve the changes we see today. Some of the changes the Police have made are significant. For example, 10 years ago the Police did not have a code of conduct that set out the expectations of behaviour for all their staff.4 Introducing one needed legislative changes. Today, police staff widely recognise that not only is a code of conduct common sense, it gives staff the ability to speak up about inappropriate behaviour.

The Police have been transparent in reporting on how they are progressing on the Commission's recommendations. The Police have also welcomed external scrutiny of their progress from us and others, such as the State Services Commission.

The Police have acted on all of the recommendations

The Police have acted on all the Commission's recommendations.5 In our assessment of progress, we took into consideration that the world has moved on in the last 10 years. Although some of the Commission's recommendations represented practice at the time, societal and technological changes have created different ways of achieving the intent of the recommendations.

For example, to hear feedback and concerns from the community (recommendation 57), the Commission recommended panels chaired by community leaders. Although the Police do take part in many community meetings, it is not their only source of feedback.

Instead, the Police use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, in a way that the Commission would not have anticipated during its review period (2004–2006). The public now have many ways to tell the Police what they think of the services they get, including making online complaints. The Police report over 1 million social media interactions each week.

The Police have become a different organisation

The Police have become fundamentally a better organisation. As Dame Margaret Bazley, Chair of the Commission, said in 2015:

Louise Nicholas has changed the way the police operate. My report has kept the police challenged right up to the present day. They have made colossal change.

Although most of the changes resulted from the Police's actions, changes in society have made it easier to put them in place. Some of the attitudes and behaviour of some police staff in 2007 reflected the attitudes and behaviour in the wider community. However, public attitudes have changed significantly in the last 10 years. For example, more recent recruits to the Police have expectations of equality and diversity in the organisation.

In 2007, the State Services Commission, assisted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, asked police staff what the "police of the future" would look like if organisational change was successful. We compared the 2007 responses to the changes that have taken place in 2017, and there is good correlation.6

The Police have made a difference to the way services are delivered to the public, and a difference to the Police as a place to work.

Investigation into adult sexual assault

The Police's beliefs and attitudes towards victims of adult sexual assault have improved significantly over the last 10 years. There is still some variation in the attitude of some police staff, although these staff are increasingly in the minority.

The Police have also improved the quality of investigations into adult sexual assault by training specialist staff and keeping good management oversight.

Although the Police's resourcing of staff to adult sexual assault investigations has come a long way, it needs further improvement. Sometimes the Police have to assign cases to non-specialist staff, which can affect the quality of the investigation. Some districts have a bigger proportion of unassigned adult sexual assault complaint cases than others. We were also told that some districts cannot always offer victims the choice of a female investigator.

Complaints made by the public against the Police

The Police's attitude to complainants has changed. We saw evidence that the Police rigorously applied their policies and procedures for dealing with complaints.

Our work on the complaints data that is relevant to the Commission's recommendations7 shows that the number of complaints about police conduct is consistent. The numbers, at five to six complaints each year for every 10,000 people, are low. In our view, considering the sometimes challenging circumstances that the Police work in, these numbers are small. We do not have concerns that the low number of complaints is because of a lack of opportunity to complain.

Our data analysis indicates that the Police are upholding more complaints because of better investigation and an increased willingness to hold their staff to account. The Police are completing investigations into complaints more quickly than in previous years. The complaints process still takes longer than what is ideal for complainants, those complained about, and occasionally for the taxpayer.

Performance management, values, behaviour, and discipline

Our work on complaints and performance management data shows that only a minority of complaints are about serious misconduct and complaints about sexual misconduct are low and falling.

The Police have made big improvements in managing staff performance. The Police have been mostly successful in changing their culture to one based on values and respect for diversity. Police staff are more willing to call out poor behaviour by colleagues, although the Police still have work to do in increasing staff confidence that poor behaviour is effectively dealt with.

Diversity, inclusiveness, and organisational health

The Police are becoming more diverse because of their recruitment efforts and support of leadership development for women. The Police have set ambitious targets for future recruitment. However, it will be some time until the Police's workforce is representative of the communities it serves.

We comment in more detail on each of these themes in Parts 3-6.

3: Policing Excellence was a change programme undertaken by New Zealand Police between 2009 and 2014. The aim was for the Police to become less reactive and offender-focused, to being proactive and more focused on prevention and victims.

4: There was a code of conduct at that time, but it applied only to what were known as "non-sworn" staff.

5: Appendix 2 contains our detailed assessment.

6: Our comparison is at Appendix 3.

7: We used the Police's data that most closely matched the aspects of police conduct covered by the Commission's report. We did not include complaints about other aspects of operational policing, such as using force or inappropriate pursuit.