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A Peoples Cop Needed

New Commissioner of Police, Rob Robinson, was described by the Prime Minister yesterday as a "cop's cop" causing him to blush. But I hope he's a people's cop. John Howard writes.

All reasonable New Zealanders will wish 50-year-old Timaru born, Rob Robinson, well in his new postion as Commissioner of Police.

He comes to the position after a series of events which has shaken public confidence in what had previously been widely recognised as one of the better police agency's in the world.

The INCIS debacle, which led to a nose-dive in public confidence and police morale, the police review, along with the fallout from the Waitara shooting of Steven Wallace, all show there is now a great deal of work needed to improve public confidence and relationships.

Mr Robinson recognised that he has a big job in front of him when being asked what he thought was his biggest challenge.

" I think just to get the confidence back into policing. We've got a very talented police agency throughout the country and now we need to get the leadership going at the level they deserve," he said.

"All the issues that emerged from Waitara remain very much to the fore and we will be working very hard to try and work those through to the satisfaction of everyone involved." Mr Robinson said.

Perhaps the biggest contribution the new Commissioner can make is to ensure that his officers also follow the preconditions laid down by the law.

Afterall, the public are expected to obey properly enacted law, so it's reasonable that police should also be expected to carry-out their functions in the same manner.

Unfortunately, there have been too many incidents being reported in newspapers, talkback radio and sometimes the courts, where there is a perception, real or imagined, of heavy-handed tactics and unreasonable actions by some members of the police.

If I recall correctly, there is something in the oath that police take which says they will faithfully serve without fear or favour, uphold the peace and discharge their duties without malice or ill-will according to law.

Recently, I was told by a High Court judge that he was surprised that more cases were not coming before the courts under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act which was passed into law 10 years ago.

He added, it's not because there are no violations but possibly because people simply didn't know they had those rights available.

Section 21 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 provides that everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, whether of the person, property, or correspondence or otherwise.

Section 22 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained.

And section 6 says that whenever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.

Those rights, and there are others, seem to be a clear indication of Parliament's intentions for the protection of New Zealanders in our democracy. The police have an obligation, if not an express duty, to also comply with them.

For me, the decision that Government has approved a dedicated police highway patrol is good news because, in my experience, the traffic officers' in the former Ministry of Transport, were much more public relations oriented than the police are now.

Perhaps that was because they were consistently seen at the side of the road in their distinctive cars or helping people change tyres or assisting the public with their vehicles which may have broken-down.

I'm sure some members of the police also do that but I have the distinct impression they just don't have the time or the human and physical resources.

If that impression is shared by other New Zealanders, and it seems that it is, then Commissioner Robinson needs to change that.

He has pledged to keep police focused on their prime targets, but he also said that he would make it a priority to mend links with the community.

That's good news, because there is an old Chinese proverb which says - "The more restrictions they place on us, the more devious we become."

Mr Robinson is a keen sportsman interested in rowing so he is obviously a team player and a team builder.

For the most part, he has very capable people within his ranks but, like any profession, there are also some rogues which must be weeded out.

The public now demands leadership and I'm sure all New Zealanders will wish him well as the top "people's cop."

ends

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