How I learned to love the violent arm of the State

On The Vote last week, they debated our confidence in the NZ Police. In a result at odds with the Police’s own polling, 56 percent voted no confidence in the Police. Some of the other bloggers I follow called it “astounding,” and went on to say it was, in their opinion, a more accurate reflection of a fundamentally broken and untrustworthy organisation.

I have had a few experiences of my own with the Police now. As manager of the Merivale Community Centre in Tauranga, I worked closely with our local station in Tauranga South on a day to day basis. As a community partner, I often attended meetings at the station to talk about crime and its impact on our local neighbourhood. I shared information with them (intel for those with a love of conspiracy) about people whose activities were causing concern and grief for Merivale residents. In my recollection, over time almost all of these concerns were resolved in no small part due to the involvement of the Police. This didn’t always involve arresting people, but a united front between a community organisation and a government agency goes a long way to changing behaviours.

As a result of our regular contact, we were also able to get the Police to come and play sports against our local youth, come to community events, and support different youth programmes with staff and resources. Our youth always enjoyed to opportunity to compete against the Police, and vice versa.

I have sat on more Youth Justice FGCs than I care to recall, and the Police normally take to hardline with our young people. They often want them to go to Youth Court so that there is a formal plan they can hold them accountable to. It’s normally the youth’s social worker or whānau who look for other pathways. The Police’s view in these instances can be a barrier to improvement in a young person’s life, and at the same time a useful corrective to their self-centred view of the world.

I have spent hours with our Community Constable who goes to meeting after meeting trying to build relationships with organisations and people so that said groups are leading their own efforts around improving safety and reducing crime.

I get to sit on the Māori Advisory Group in our area, and I have had the opportunity to read the various national strategies in relation to Māori, and hear from the Police in the senior positions saying all the right things and trying to find opportunities to build relationships with iwi. Like all government agencies, it’s a bit hit and miss once you get down to the local level, and a lot of Māori offenders are barely if ever involved with their iwi, hapū or marae.

I have also witnessed a Police Officer get out of his car outside our community centre, reach into his kit for two black gloves, and roughly arrest one of our drunk young people. He threatened to arrest our Youth Worker who volunteered to help the youth calm down, and swore profusely at us all to “back the fuck off.” When the youth swung an ineffectual elbow, he rammed his head into the side of the car, put him in the back seat, and gave him four or five punches to the head.

When I was doing the media for our friends who broke into Waihopai spy base and damaged the cover over a satellite dish I was asked to come into the Tauranga South Police Station and interviewed on behalf of the Strategic Intelligence Unit to ascertain if I or my friends were an ongoing threat to national security. It was two hours long, I was never asked if I wanted a lawyer because it was an informal ‘chat’. During this same period, at different protests, I liaised with the Police to ensure they understand our plan, our intention and who to talk to, which always ensured we never had any misunderstandings.

When we talk about the Police, we are talking about a huge agency. About 8,000 sworn staff, and then non-sworn staff as well. So to ask if you have confidence in the Police is nonsensical by virtue of the scale. It’s equivalent to asking whether you have confidence in every person living in Matamata.

I don’t have a lot of confidence in the line-up of Police employees who appear in the newspapers for doing awful things or persecuting activists, the poor and others in the service of the State, such as the idiot senior policeman who suggested a ten year old victim could be complicit in their own abuse. These are two dimensional villains in print and media whose very existence is a heady mix of dysfunction, offending and ratings. They are not the Police to me.

I don’t have a lot of confidence in the non-sworn and sworn members of the Police who sit in their headquarters in Wellington. They are closely tied to the interests and neuroses of their political masters, which is how you end up with the raids in Tuhoe land and the raids at Dotcom’s mansion. They are Hollow Men as envisaged by Nicky Hager, shadowy figures disassociated from the communities they make decisions for, wracked by their inadequacy in the Great Games of geopolitics. These are the fools who force a local officer to interview a peace activist in Tauranga for a few hours. They are not the Police to me.

I have confidence in the Police. The Police are the officers I interact with in our community and in our streets. They go to the places you and I are afraid to go. When I call about a domestic violence incident, they will go into the house and attempt to calm the situation and try to encourage the woman (almost always the woman) to take up the offers of support from Refuge, Shakti, Living Without Violence and other agencies to escape the horror. They will go to the crash sites of my young cousins, put up barriers and try to bring some order and empathy to the fear, blood and death. They will stand and be abused by residents and business owners after a burglary for not doing enough, taking the anger that was meant for the offender with good grace.

The Police have integrity and a commitment to the common good. These are the people I tell my children to seek out in times of crisis and emergency. These are the people that I seek out in times of crisis and emergency. They are some of the few who stand guard at the gates of society; and they do not stand against reformation and revolution. but against sociopathic and psychopathic chaos that threatens all of us no matter our socio-political views.

The Police I have confidence in can make mistakes. They can make mistakes as grevious as our own, and the terrible thing is that their mistakes can cause death and lifelong injury. But to walk a mile in their shoes is to appreciate that it is not the mistakes that define them, but the consistent care, empathy and grace shown by the large majority of Police Officers in Aotearoa New Zealand every day to every person that they encounter.