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Time to debate political policing

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Time to debate political policing

The public can and must debate the scope of political policing in the wake of the “anti-terrorism” Operation O-desk, says Dr Warwick Tie, sociologist with the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Massey University.

“This present operation signals a departure from how police in New Zealand have previously operated, both in terms of use of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 and also the scope and expertise they have used,” Dr Tie says. “This is the first example we have had of large-scale political policing. While there has been some use of political policing previously, this has been much smaller in scale.”

This development of military-style policing is significant for New Zealand society, Dr Tie says.

“My fear is that policing will tilt towards a more security oriented coercive form when public debate falls into a black hole between security-related and human rights arguments. For the first time, New Zealanders have to consider the fact that the national police service now possesses both the legal mandate and operational capability to undertake sustained, military-style political policing.

“In order to progress, debate needs to occur in a manner that avoids the black hole that is quickly forming between the pro-security and human rights arguments.”

Two contrary kinds of questions have emerged to shape public thought on this situation.

“The first assumes the possibility of security threats and asks about the extent posed by alleged activities. The second asks about the rights of those either restricted in the course of such operations or who are detained and arrested. The inconsolable gap that exists between these two positions - which emerged around the taser debate and that surfaces each time the police shoot an armed assailant - create an impasse between the arguments of those favouring public security and those that support human rights.”

The matters that these two positions address are set to enlarge in New Zealand over the next decades, as Peak Oil and rapid climate change amplify challenges around issues like energy supply and bio-security.

“The New Zealand Police’s policy of wide public consultation around the development of its new Act appears to have as one of its motivations the circumvention of this very deadlock. Through that consultation, the Police have sought input regarding the relationships that national police should have with other policing agencies, such as the Maori Wardens’ Association and the private security industry.

“The relationship that is the most fraught in an open democratic society like New Zealand, however, is the relationship of police to the fields of military operation and covert surveillance better-known as spying. These two latter fields, as has been demonstrated in Operation O-desk, are key elements in the deployment of political policing.”


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