President's Column: Police are reflective of their country

NZPA | Mon February 1st, 2016

In the late 1980s, I hitchhiked around South Africa just as apartheid was coming to an end.

Dropping me off in Johannesburg after my last ride, the driver asked me to sum up my view on South Africa’s issues. My answer was, “I’m glad my ancestors went to New Zealand and not South Africa, or your problems would be my problems.”

I am reminded of that as I see issues with militant Islamic and other terrorist groups around the world, combined with some serious economic issues such as the Chinese economy, oil, share markets and deflation.

Again, I reflect on just how good this country is. Police are reflective of their country, and my international experience convinces me that we are one of the most effective and efficient police forces in world, a boast many of our institutions can make.

The key is to recognise why that is and to ensure we do whatever we can to keep it that way. In my view, much of our success is due to the egalitarian nature of the country, where the population gets to mix together pretty well, creating opportunities for all.

But, as police, we here, and overseas, are close observers of the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Much of the negativity around policing, in the United States in particular, results from police being left to deal with the segment of the population who are increasingly alienated from the mainstream. It’s where our victims and offenders largely come from.

This can be measured in the media and public response to crimes that occur in different parts of the community. A tragic murder in Remuera early in the new year resulted in significant commentary through social and mainstream media, as any such despicable crime should.

I can’t help but reflect on whether a similar murder in one of the lower socioeconomic suburbs would have generated the same degree of response.

We as police will do a professional job investigating such a crime wherever it occurs. But the political support needed to ensure police are properly funded is often aligned to the public’s perception of safety.

It should not take a murder in the nicer part of town for the public to realise how necessary it is to continue to invest in public safety everywhere and for everyone.

That goes back to recognising what is good about New Zealand. And that is that we have traditionally been a fair society to all our citizens. And fairness means ensuring everyone gets the same opportunities, including freedom from crime in their neighbourhood and lives.

If we lose that, we lose our essential point of difference with much of the rest of the world.

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