Kia Kaha! Bullying and NZ Police

by Sophia Tara

In his blog on 31 May 2012, NZ Police Commissioner, Peter Marshall announced the NZ Police had “A Culture To Be Proud Of.” Commenting on a previous report about NZ Police in 2010, he says, “ It’s worlds away from the previous report, released in late 2010. Gone are unflattering comments about Police culture; instead we read: “The record of performance and the culture of Police are something of which New Zealanders can be proud.” Peter Marshall’s Blog 
The very next day, Friday 1 June, hundreds of NZ Auckland University students staged a peaceful protest “Blockade the Budget II: Protest Like the Greeks ” voicing their dismay at the government’s austerity budget, severe cuts to student funding and equity access to higher education. Further, they expressed outrage at deputy PM Bill English’s cold attitude and remarks that he would not listen to their complaints, while taunting them with “they need some Greeks to show them how to do it!”
Incensed at English’s unempathic stance and the prospect of untenable financial hardship, hundreds of students began their peaceful protest outside the campus library – accompanied by 100 uninvited police officers! Not long into the protest, police divided the student group in half, with approx. 150-200 students subjected to the controversial tactic of ‘kettling’ used by US police against the Occupy Wall Street movement. Kettling encloses the group within a police cordon, so no one is able to enter or leave. NZ police then made 43 arrests and laid 4 charges against students for ‘obstruction’ while protecting friends being forcefully dragged off by police. It’s hard to justify why so many students were subjected to unwarranted police violence and arrest, while peacefully protesting within their own campus grounds! This video footage captures the police violence in action. 

“Bullying” is the only way I can describe this form of ‘power over’ tactics used by NZ Police. Their agenda to exert power and control over students, with intention to cause fear, intimidation and distress is a common theme in bullying. Ironically, in NZ, police have long been the authoritative voice speaking up against bullying in schools and communities. Police education officers visit NZ schools to teach the anti-bullying programme Kia Kaha (Be Strong) and a resource kit the police have made to help prevent  bullying. On their website, they teach young people the following:

Everyone has a right to be safe – safe from other people and safe on the road. Bullying is a problem for many young people.
You need to remember that:

  • bullying is wrong
  • nobody deserves to be bullied
  • bullying is never the victim’s fault
  • if you are being bullied, tell an adult you trust.

In light of police brutality at the student protests, and the incongruency with principles expressed,  would young people trust these words? Would they feel safe if authorised proponents of public protection and safety are themselves violent bullies? By what authority were police mandated to gate-crash the campus, using unprovoked and violent tactics in a lawful peace demonstration? As enforcers of the “law” are they above the law? How will they build trust in police integrity and credibility, now and in the future, given their violent treatment of NZ citizens exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest?

Over the years, and as recently as 2010, NZ police have received damning reports about their work culture. It’s widely known a culture of bullying is rife within police ranks “almost one in five officers say they have seen or been subject to bullying from May 2009 – May 2010.” NZ Herald. There is no denying the multi-faceted complexity of modern day police work, but how they achieved a complete turnaround within one year in 2011, as per the Commissioner’s 2012 report, is nothing short of miraculous – unless the goal-posts have been moved? “The 2011/12 report is different in approach to previous years.” Press Release  Is credit due to NZ Police Commissioner, Peter Marshall for leading the police force into a more favourable ‘reporting’ era? In keeping with this “record of performance and the culture of Police are something of which New Zealanders can be proud” will Mr Marshall build on this projected positive image to win public confidence and favour?A positive report on paper is far from the reality of actual police brutality and man-handling of NZ university students staging a peaceful protest. Neither does it inspire confidence and trust in our law enforcers. There are real concerns about unwarranted police aggression when dealing with the public’s right to peaceful protest. The NZ Police Commissioner will need to review not just the  annual report on the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, but also the bullying behaviour of his officers on the streets, aggressively enforcing ‘law and order’ with impunity.  Auckland NowUnfortunately, the Culture of Violence and Bullying is rampant in NZ and it has been cited that Kiwis are the worst in the world for bullying, especially in schools and workplaces. Stuff NZ Although hundreds of anti-bullying programmes have been funded, facilitated and progressed over many years, including the Kia Kaha NZ Police programme, bullying continues unabated across the spectrum. I believe the crux of it is contained within the grip of the anti-bullying paradigm, based on a punitive culture of punishment and blame. The bullying victims are schooled in how to avoid, address or ignore the bullies, while bullies themselves are meted out various forms of punishment and ostracizement. There is little wide-spread emphasis on the underlying causes of the bullying, its cultural or family origin, relevant to each individual, and its far-reaching impact on social behaviour. Unless we understand the motive behind the bully’s aggression to be seen and heard, we may never resolve the problem.

The voices of progress have already advocated a Paradigm of Empathy, both for the bully and the victim, where both are seen and heard with equal compassion. This restorative process is a far cry from the punitive model ingrained in our judgement of others. It creates a language shift from using words like right and wrong, good and bad, to one without judging, blaming or labelling. We move away from perceived ‘enemy images’ and begin to understand our common humanity. Mutual empathy becomes the goal and the way forward in building a Culture of Compassion, towards equality and trust.

Perhaps that is a paradigm to be incorporated into the Kia Kaha programme, and a recommended compulsory course for all NZ Police officers as part of their professional training. Imagine a NZ Police force trained in Empathy and Compassion! Now that would be a police culture of which New Zealanders can be truly proud!

CREDIT FOR PHOTOS: (Click to enlarge)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s