President's Column - Police culture

Vol 44, No.4 | NZPA | Sun May 1st, 2011

“Anyone who believes public safety will somehow be enhanced by elimination of ‘the Police culture’ shows an inherent misunderstanding of what makes us a very effective and efficient Police service. Lessons learned in the school of hard knocks will generally be more effective than those delivered from the pulpit or the idealist’s forum.”


It was reassuring to hear the new Police Commissioner, Peter Marshall, challenging some perceptions on Police culture during his round of introductory media interviews.

The public has got so used to hearing us bashed around by a series of inquiries and reports that refer negatively to the ‘Police culture’ that they need reminding that most of the culture is positive.

Of course there is a culture in Police. While some of it is passed down from one generation of police to the next, most of it is formed by the environment we work in, the people we deal with, and the outright nature of ‘the job’.
My belief is it comes from dealing with mostly victims at the front end of our careers. Burglary, assault, petty theft, car theft – they’re stock-in-trade for a new cop.

Contact with distraught victims leads to a determination to extract justice from the perpetrators of these crimes.

Unfortunately, the cynicism, which is so much part of the culture, is honed not only by the fact that those offenders will lie, deny and fail to acknowledge their wrongdoing, but that the justice system seems to be geared to protect the criminal at the expense of everyone else, especially the victims.

So it’s easy, especially early in a career, to believe that police are the only ones who give a damn. That is culture forming.

It also leads to a culture in which we all pitch in together. The Commissioner spoke of a culture which sees New Zealand police work professionally and tirelessly when emergencies like Pike River and the Christchurch quakes occur, and long protracted inquires turn up offenders. He could also have mentioned people hanging on, long after shifts finish, to help get paperwork completed; of people time and time again putting themselves back on duty when they observe crime happening; of being the first people putting their names forward on school and other voluntary committees; of the collective pain when one of our own is bashed or worse, or misbehaves.

Yes, there is a culture; the humour or Craik as the Irish call it, can be eyebrow-raising to someone who hasn’t had the same exposure to life.

Collective debriefing sessions at odd times of the day and week, planned around shifts and involving a few drinks, can provide the tsk tsk brigade, and a headline hungry media with ammunition.

Anyone who believes public safety will somehow be enhanced by elimination of ‘the Police culture’ shows an inherent misunderstanding of what makes us a very effective and efficient Police service.

Lessons learned in the school of hard knocks will generally be more effective than those delivered from the pulpit or the idealist’s forum.

Police are evolving, as is society. We reflect the society we are recruited from and live in, and our attitudes mirror that society.

Perhaps what Commissioner Marshall may have said is that Police culture is not bad or good; it just, well, is!

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