Wednesday, 11 June 2008

How Far Will the Madness Go?

Another Victim of Modern Policing

Last week we blogged on the need for citizen policing, here. We argued that the development of a professional police force has had some very non salutary consequences. In particular, the modern police force has left our communities weaker and more vulnerable than ever before.

This has come about because the modern police force has been promulgated over the top of the right and duty of citizens to protect themselves and their property from criminal attack. Citizen's rights have been removed while the exclusive and monopoly rights of police to use force to apprehend criminals has been increasingly asserted.

This has gone so far in New Zealand that citizens now face criminal prosecution if they take reasonable steps to protect themselves or their neighbours. It truly is a world gone mad. But this week it just got much worse. This week we have reached a new low in the manifestation of the weakness and vulnerability of people under the operations of the New Zealand Police Force. We have also seen that the Police Force is now showing signs of institutionalised cowardice.

We are conscious of needing to utter a caveat. We believe that there are hundreds of rank and file police who are deeply frustrated by the quagmire in which they are required to operate. We hope that this post will have the effect of giving them a voice—saying what they would like to say, but cannot. We respect you. We thank you for the work you seek to do so competently and well. We believe that the New Zealand Police Force, as an organisation has increasingly dishonoured the uniform that you wear, and we share your shame.

This week we were confronted with a cowardly murder. The facts as reported in the newspapers are as follows. Three murderous thugs held up a shop in Manurewa, deliberately shot an unarmed, unresisting shopkeeper, then ran from the shop laughing. Later the shopkeeper, Navtej Singh, father of three, died. His blood cries now out from the ground for vengeance.

The police and the ambulance service arrived soon after, but were not allowed to enter the premises for 26 minutes. They waited outside while Mr Singh's life ebbed away. Inside were Mr Singh's wife, his business partner and a friend. They had assured the police that the murderers had left and were alone with the dying man. Eventually the police went in; then they allowed the ambulance service in to attend to Mr Singh a further ten minutes later. For over half an hour medical help was withheld from Mr Singh. He later died.

We ask, why? It turns out that the police were following the procedures manual. Yup—they were doing things by the book. Apparently, the book says that in such a situation the police are not to enter the premises until it is clear that the wicked have departed. It took over half an hour to clarify that the wicked had indeed decamped. The phone calls from Mr Singh's ministrants could not be relied upon: they had to be checked out. After all, it might have been a trap.

Zen Tiger, at New Zealand Conservative, commenting on this disgraceful incident, wrote “I am beyond making rational comment.” We understand exactly what he means. The whole incident leaves one speechless. However, we are neither as refined nor measured as Zen. So here goes. Please overlook our anger as we write.

Firstly, see where the modern policing philosophy has led. It began by removing from citizens the rights and duties to defend themselves as the most vital front line against crime. It monopolised the duties of policing to a professional police force, which, given the ubiquitousness of crime, meant that the community was left exposed and vulnerable. The police and the government over promised, and could not possibly deliver. Not in a thousand years. Now, it has degenerated to the point that if the crims are ravaging and mutilating your family in your home, the police procedures manual requires that the police wait outside until the criminals have finished their “work” before they will attempt to apprehend them and protect their victims.

Secondly, the New Zealand Police demonstrate daily that they have become an uber bureaucracy. In an uber bureaucracy, personal accountability, responsibility, and initiative is systematically expunged. A comprehensive set of procedures, rules of practice, and directions controls all that is done. The only responsibility of a policeman or woman in the uber bureaucracy, that is now the New Zealand Police, is to ensure that they follow the book. Any disastrous outcome can be dismissed with the presentation of the ultimate, iron clad justification: “We followed the procedures.”

In an uber bureaucracy, cowardice rules. No-one takes responsibility. All want to shuffle accountability to the “system.” It's not our fault. No-one will put their head above the parapet for fear that the bosses will cut it off. They will not cut off any heads below the parapet. Keep down, Stay safe. Cowardice! People dying. Life at risk. No worries. There will be no come back as long as you follow the book. Cowardice. Institutionalised cowardice. It is always the way in an uber bureaucracy.

Large corporations learned this the hard way years ago. They had to learn it, or they risked going out of business. Those that did not learn it, very quickly faded away. In order to satisfy customers, in order to do a half-way decent job, in order to recruit and retain quality staff, corporations learned you had to empower staff to make decisions and take initiative for themselves—particularly when at the “front line.” So, for example, it dawned on corporations that if they gave a discretionary spending limit to front line staff handling complaints, so that within that limit the staff member could make an on-the-spot decision as to whether to restitute or compensate a complainant, marvellous win-win results followed.

So, in the police force, in the war against crime, where is the delegation to the section leader, the NCO, the commander authorising him to exercise responsible judgments on the spot? Recall, by the way, that this is one of the hallmarks of successful armies in the field. Those that have delegated authority to NCO's or squad leaders, entrusting them with common sense, honed by years of training, and empowering them to make instant decisions, have proven to be far, far more effective in the field.

The question that is begged in this recent debacle is whether the New Zealand Police trust their Senior Sergeants, their Commanders, their squad leaders, in the light of all their experience and training, to make sound, smart, front-line operational decisions. Do they trust them to sum up a situation and make appropriate, common-sense decisions? We can answer that question. Clearly they do not. Which is to say, clearly the senior managers of the New Zealand Police force do not trust themselves or their staff. Cowardice comes from the top.

Thirdly, this shocking situation is an outcome of the politicisation of the New Zealand Police Force—which is the sole responsibility of the Labour Government, since it has overtly embarked on a strategy to bring the police under political control—and which responsibility in its turn must be sheeted home to one Helen Clark. There is a causal connection between Clark's disgusting and immoral slander of the Police Commissioner, Mr Peter Doone in her deliberate actions to "have his head on her platter" and what unfolded on the streets of Manurewa last weekend.

There is a causal connection between Clark's predilection for commenting on police actions, prejudging outcomes, publicly blaming police for their perceived failures, ensuring that compliant officers are appointed to the top jobs, and the uber-bureaucratisation of the entire police force. If you know your political masters are going to get stuck into you, cowards will get behind the parapet, write a manual, and hold the manual up above the trenches. “It's the Manual's fault, sir. But it's easily fixed. We will just write a few more rules and regulations every time something untoward happens, and Bob's your uncle, problem solved.”

In the war against crime, it has become safety first, safety first, safety first. The public's? No, our safety. The Police. We have to protect ourselves from criticism. The public be damned.

How to fix this? It is not easily done. It will require “root and branch” change. Here, though, are a few suggestions:
1. Take steps immediately to de-politicize the police force, and remove all institutionalised and ad hoc interference in the operational processes of the Force.

2. Commission a consulting report by a completely independent body such as the Boston Consulting Group or some other experienced management consulting team to review the management, culture, operating principles and practices of the Police with a view to having it comply with world's best-practice management standards.

3. The Minister of Police would need to hold the Commissioner totally accountable for the implementation of the recommendations of the Report over a certain time period. Regular progress reports should be given to the Minister.

4. We do not believe for an instant that the dire problems of the Police Force will be solved by throwing more public money at them. This is the great fallacy of the Left. Because they believe in the omni-competence of the State's bureaucracies, the facile and stupid solution offered to every malfunction is More Money to build a bigger bureaucracy. We believe instead that a properly constituted Police Force would cost less public money. We suspect that there are huge savings to be made. For a start all those manual writers and the committees that currently produce, vett, and amend them could be discharged.

5. Empower police on the front line to make professional decisions, and gear their training to enable them to make those decisions appropriately. Then, support them in their actions.

When an action goes wrong, and it is deemed that an inquiry into how the engagement went wrong is needed, the inquiry panel must be completely independent of the Police (for reasons of its credibility and integrity). It must be chaired by a Coroner or a Justice of the Peace. The other members of the panel, however, must be those who have suffered as victims of crime. This would prevent such inquiry panels being taken over by the naïve who have never suffered at the hands of criminals and who tend to expect the police to be perfect at all times. The panel needs to populated by realists, not naïve utopians. Victims of crime are far more likely to be realists. The responsibility of the panel would be, like the Coroners office, to make public, but non-binding recommendations, to the Police Commissioner.

5. Re-institute the principle that the first line of defence in the war against crime is the citizen defending his own life and property and those of his neighbours. Empower us all to act. Re-institute it as a duty. If you can entrust twelve ordinary men and women to make decisions about the guilt or innocence of one charged with a crime, you can entrust those same ordinary people to do the right things when confronted with crime. It will not be perfect, but like the jury system, it will be right far more times than it is wrong. Then, relegate the Police to the second line of defence against crime, and ensure that their duties and responsibilities are adjusted accordingly.

As Mr Singh's blood cries out for vengeance, we say, It is enough. Something has to be done. It has to be radical, root and branch, and quick. Will a real Prime Minister and Minister of Police please stand up.

Will the public of New Zealand please stand up and insist once again on your right to carry out your duties and responsibilities, and stand in the front line against crime.

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