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The “Four Es” – engage, educate, encourage and enforce – were a spectacular success with the public who were fully aware and supportive of the approach. Photo: ALAN GIBSON

Lessons from Level 4

Is there something about our Kiwi way of being, and of policing, that could lead us to a new worldview of policing safe communities, wonders Shona Munro, a teaching and learning adviser at the Police College.

American historian David Fischer, who has spent time living in New Zealand, wrote in his 2012 book Fairness and Freedom that there is a striking difference in core values between the United States and New Zealand.

American culture, he says, is based fundamentally on liberty, freedom and rights of the individual. For example, the “right to bear arms” and, in the current context, the “right not to wear a mask”. In contrast, Fischer says, New Zealand culture is fundamentally based on fairness and natural justice.

Although we know that serious inequities exist in New Zealand, Fischer’s observations on our national psyche go some way towards explaining how, and why, as a nation we were able to mostly “be kind” and behave as a “team of five million” during Covid-19 lockdown periods.

During this crisis, fairness has been evident in the way the Government responded with inclusive information and financial aid. There was a real sense that we were all in this together.

The way we responded as police was deeply embedded in the notion of fairness and natural justice. The “Four Es” – engage, educate, encourage and enforce – were a spectacular success with the public who were fully aware and supportive of the approach.

By contrast, it was reported that Queensland Police issued A$1 million in fines on just one weekend in early April. The public there were incensed and felt alienated.

Back in New Zealand, our staff worked alongside iwi to keep communities safe.

The sense of community was evident in the massive increase in donations to charities and in the images on TV and social media of neighbourhoods and whānau supporting each other. There was a sense of belonging and connectedness that naturally bubbled to the surface.

As we consider the lessons from the pandemic, we have been given a stark reminder that what happens elsewhere in the world (eg, a fish market in Wuhan or the death of George Floyd in the US), has an impact on us too.

The virus has reminded us that the “every man for himself” approach as we have seen played out in the US is a fundamentally flawed way of being and confirms Fischer’s view of the American obsession with freedom and the rights of the individual.

I’m now wondering if New Zealand Police’s stated vision to be the “safest country in the world” is unwittingly aligned to competitive American core values rather than our own?

For us to be the safest country, logic says that other countries must be doing worse than us – and that their communities need to be less safe than ours.

To reflect our core values, we must leverage off the sense of belonging and connectedness that shone through during the Level 4 lockdown. It wasn’t a new phenomenon; we were simply given an opportunity to notice it. What appears to be happening in New Zealand Police is that we are learning to recognise where our real strengths lie and we are beginning to police in ways that are starting to make a positive differences in our most vulnerable communities. In doing so, we are capturing the attention of other policing jurisdictions.

The Whanganui, Rangitikei and Ruapehu Area Leadership Development Programme, Tū Tika Tū Pono, which calls for participants to “be just and fair, be genuine and true to ourselves and our communities” is taking a collective leadership approach using a te ao Māori (Māori worldview) perspective to shape their policing responses.

If our national core values are indeed fairness and natural justice, and our sense of connectedness and belonging as shown in lockdown are a demonstration of who we really are, then perhaps the Commissioner’s request to “Be First, Then Do” is not as complex as many first thought.

Policing is difficult and complicated, but our people find ways to be authentic and connected to our communities, and this shapes what we do.

In every district, there are police approaching their jobs in innovative and creative ways with positive outcomes in our communities.

We have an alternative vision for policing linked to our sense of natural justice and fairness. This sets us apart as a policing jurisdiction and sets the scene for us to offer guidance, direction and alternative ways of policing to a world in which we are all inextricably connected.

  • Shona Munro has recently been awarded a Fulbright Research Scholarship related to the collective leadership development work she is doing alongside Police’s Wanganui, Rangitikei and Ruapehu Area Leadership Development Programme.

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