Commissioner's blog: Direct line

Poignant and dignified remembrance

Hundreds of staff and family members gathered at the Police College on Monday to honour fallen officers and colleagues who died in the past 12 months. The national Remembrance Day service was particularly poignant because, for the first time, a Governor-General attended and spoke, together with the Police Minister. It was a dignified occasion, very professionally managed by college staff and others. Similar events were held around the country and that's as it should be.
 
One name that wasn't read out this year, but almost certainly will be next year, was that of former Inspector Alan Wright. Alan, who retired this year, drowned last month. I was honoured to attend his funeral, along with scores of police officers who formed a very appropriate guard of honour.
 
At such times we reflect on the best of policing. However, all organisations suffer slip-ups and when things go wrong we don't duck for cover. Without wishing to prejudge the inquiry under way, I was left shaking my head at recent commentary about the alleged treatment of two young women at a lower North Island police station in January. They were aged 14 and 16 and were kept in custody over a weekend. There's common ground that various legislative requirements were overlooked. If true, it's a situation we don't need in a highly professional service like ours - and I've told staff as much.
 
The findings of a recent Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigation around our response to fleeing drivers represents another own goal. There are strict rules around such incidents, which protect police officers as well as members of the public.
 
On the other hand, I'm delighted to praise the officers who arrested a man who went on a rampage with a knife in Christchurch in March. The man had stabbed two people and threatened others before confronting police. He was shot after officers first challenged him, then used pepper spray and a Taser without effect. Last month he was jailed for six-and-a-half years. Today the IPCA has released its finding that the shooting was justified, with officers demonstrating clear thinking and professionalism. I welcome this timely reminder of the amazing work done by police on a regular basis.
 
On this point, the new crime statistics reflect the huge effort of Police staff in all our districts. Some media outlets have chosen to accentuate the negative, but we take heart from a great achievement of crime prevention and reduction - the lowest crime rate per head of population since before electronic records began. I also acknowledge the extraordinary hours of work and dedication by investigators in relation to the number of recent homicide inquiries, principally in Wellington and Auckland. Their efforts are truly appreciated.
 
We've seen more extraordinary Police stories this week. I telephoned Senior Constable Lyal Bayliss and Constable Darrin Pavelka to commend them on their arrest of an armed offender in Christchurch. Thanks to their courage and skill a dangerous incident was resolved without serious injury or worse. I'm also full of admiration for the members of the Police Dive Squad after their search for Private Michael Ross, the soldier who died in Lake Moawhango. It was a tragic outcome, but our members' commitment in such difficult conditions is beyond doubt.
 
Less positively, Police has been the subject of much, often inaccurate, speculation around Kim Dotcom. The central issue is whether the courts deem that Mr Dotcom should or shouldn't be extradited to the United States, with a hearing scheduled for March 2013. There are many side issues which, although interesting, aren't central to the principal action being undertaken by the Crown Law office.
 
A formal complaint has been received from the Green Party co-leader about alleged illegal activity by the Government Communications Security Bureau. Investigators will refer their findings to an independent Queen's Counsel, who will make recommendations - a practical and commonsense approach which should avert any suggestions of a partisan approach.
 
As a parting thought, I see former Inspector Ross Meurant, who retired from Police in the 1980s, was again wheeled out to inaccurately comment on Police culture in this context. If I ever feel compelled to present myself as an 'authority' on policing decades after I retire, can someone please put me out of my misery! 
 
Stay safe and look after each other. And keep smiling - it's only 12 weeks until Christmas.