Police story can't always be told

Police story can't always be told

Howard Broad, Police Commissioner

There are two sides to every story.
 
It's a tried and true saying for police officers, and I was reminded of it again when the results of a review into the child discipline law were announced by Nigel Latta. (NZ Herald, 7 Dec; Dominion Post, 8 Dec.)
 
For over two years, police have enforced The Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 - generally known as the 'anti-smacking law'.
 
Debate over the amendment has led to intense scrutiny of police officers. Critics were concerned that good parents would be prosecuted for lightly smacking their children but the review wholeheartedly endorsed the work of police and social workers.
 
In each case investigated by the review panel, police actions seemed extreme and unreasonable when considering one side of the story - usually the alleged offender's side.
 
But on further investigation, it was clear that police officers attending each incident had considered all sides of the story, including accounts from victims, witnesses and the history of people involved. Things often look very different in context, and in each case the police responded 'proportionately and appropriately,' to quote Mr Latta.
 
After the review results were announced, debate turned to whether the law should be rewritten. That is a separate issue to how it is enforced, and therefore a matter for politicians. The way police use their discretion should not be used as a lever as to whether the law should be worded differently.
 
It frequently happens that police receive criticism when a limited number of facts are known. There's no quick fix for this - the facts which justify our actions often can't be discussed because the matter is before the courts, for privacy reasons or other issues.
 
So be it.
 
The great advantage of widespread discussion around this law is that it urges us all to talk about what is appropriate in terms of child discipline, and what is not.
 
From that alone, children will be much safer.