Bullying inquiry 'reveals the true culture of police'

What do 12 years of supposed police 'culture change' actually add up to, asks Dr Geoff Plimmer, a Senior Lecturer in Victoria University of Wellington's School of Management.

The New Zealand Police have been in the news recently with allegations of widespread and serious bullying. This comes many years after the 2007 Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct following the Louise Nicholas rape allegations, their handling of the Roast Busters case and the bungled appointment process of deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha, who reportedly had inappropriate views on the Nicholas allegations and an alleged history of bullying. Now, it seems, bullying in the New Zealand Police is a pervasive problem.

The police have announced a full review into bullying in the organisation. Unfortunately for them, this announcement coincided with revelations from a whistleblower that he was threatened with legal action if he did not retract bullying allegations made to the media.

They accuse him of breaking a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) stemming from an earlier settlement. NDAs are powerful tools to cover up misdeeds by the powerful. This police action suggests they care more about reputation than substance.

It is a pity they have not put the same effort into dealing with bullying, rather than stopping allegations of it. The situation is chaotic, and is naturally embarrassing for the police. But will it be embarrassing enough to create change?

Related to this are credible allegations from ex-human resources staff and the police union that people who used the Speak Up process to raise issues of bullying were regarded more as the problem than the behaviour itself, and that its promises of confidentiality were broken. There have also been allegations of conflicts of interest in how these issues were dealt with, which the police have (almost predictably) said is just a matter of confusion and a training issue.

All this follows supposed "culture change" since the 2007 commission of inquiry. This change was presumably quite lucrative for consultants such as PwC New Zealand, which for a number of years after the inquiry did regular reports into the change.

The police are a large organisation and do highly stressful work, so occasional bad apples and bad behaviour are understandable and to be expected. Everyone makes mistakes.

The disappointing aspect is the extent and frequency of them, and how badly the police deal with them. The police appear to have difficulty managing problems when they arise, and seem to be more interested in the appearance of transparency than the reality.

For instance, in the case of Roast Busters, which concerned the botched handling of complaints about a group of young men who bragged online about having sex with drunk and underage girls, the police initially said no complaints had been made to them—before having to change their story in the face of an upcoming Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigation.

Regarding Wally Haumaha, Dr Pauline Kingi—who had endorsed Haumaha 23 different times on LinkedIn, and had a well-established relationship with the police—was initially appointed to conduct an independent review into his appointment process. She then had to step down.

These examples follow many years of compromised investigations into the Nicholas allegations. They alone should have taught the police, and others, that rigorous and open processes are essential for public trust and the longer-term reputation of the police.

I hope the police haven't made a mistake with their recent announcement of a review into bullying to be conducted by Debbie Francis, formerly of PwC, who carried out the inquiry into bullying and harassment in the Parliamentary Service.

A more open process would have been to announce the intent to hold an inquiry and a process to appoint someone to conduct it, preferably with some public input. I'm pleased to see the IPCA has agreed to conduct its own  investigation.

Organisations often struggle to deal with bullying and other misconduct issues, particularly when they concern people with power in the organisation. The police, however, should be pretty good at this by now. Particularly after 12 years of "culture change".

Read the original article on Stuff.