New Zealand Police have the balance right


Over the last few weeks, I have become aware of concerns that the New Zealand Police are being too cautious and can afford to lower their guard. I have become aware that people believe they are hiding something and that we should be suspicious.

I do not claim to speak for the authorities by any means. Nor do I claim to be a blind sympathizer who thinks the authorities can do no wrong. The can, but no law enforcement agency ever ever wants to be caught off guard by undesirables in the way the Sri Lankan authorities were caught off guard. Whilst Sri Lanka is going to have an inquiry into how the authorities managed to not pick up on the warnings being provided, potentially lasting damage has been done by that glaring failure.

But no law enforcement agency worthy of being such wants to become a reactionary, society fearing force that starts urging all kinds of restrictive measures. It does not want to be like the French following the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris where events started being cancelled on a whim, where a radically beefed up police force far out stayed its welcome as a protecting force. That is a danger that Sri Lankan authorities are in grave danger of enacting themselves. Their move to ban social media points to a panic that runs the risk of making the Sri Lankan public panic. Too much and the story of the boy who cried wolf becomes applicable, so that when there really is an emergency, no one listens.

It is a tight rope to walk, a judging act where the tight rope walker has a long way to fall if they make a mistake. Right now the Sri Lankan authorities have just fallen off the side marked “overly cautious”.

It is for these reasons I am so glad I live in New Zealand. Our Police make mistakes and they know it. Like in every Police force there will be a few rotten apples who do not deserve to be commissioned officers of the force and should be dealt to forthwith. But, and I cannot really stress this enough, they are accountable. They are accountable in ways the vast majority of police forces simply are not. Their rapport and honesty with New Zealanders is a comparative joy and we show this through simple gestures such as getting cops manning the lines on crime scenes coffee or helping out in public events – recently a police officer said what really made his day was being on cordon duty at a crime scene and a kid came up and gave him a hug.

New Zealand Police I am fairly confident do not want to bear arms longer than they need to and that they are acutely aware of the implications that go with having visible automatic weapons for too long. This is why the terrorism alert has been downgraded to medium – it is still higher than the designation we had on 14 March 2019, but it acknowledges that at this time there is no good reason for maintaining an alert level that is physically and psychologically draining as well as financially.

I am sure that the Police are making an honest effort to do as good a job as they can in the circumstances. Are they going to get it absolutely perfect? No. There will be mistakes, like the failure to arrest the guy blasting off hate speech near the Christchurch mosque. There will be times when we wonder whether they took public sentiment on board, such as around the Louise Nicholas case, where they have considerably improved, but still have room for improvement. But compared with their Sri Lankan authorities, the work currently being done by our Police force looks pretty damn good to me.