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Review Of Bullying And Culture Highlights Way Forward For Police

In a new report released today, Bullying, Culture and Related Issues in New Zealand Police, the Authority finds significant elements of bullying in some workplaces, and a related negative culture.

This negative culture did not permeate every workplace”, said Judge Colin Doherty, Chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority. “The weight of evidence suggests it is likely confined to particular individuals, workplaces and Police districts. However, it was sufficiently prevalent to give rise to concern and points to the pressing need for real change in management and organisational practice”.

The Authority’s review involved about 400 hours of confidential interviews with more than 200 current and former Police staff about their specific experiences and their observations of Police culture that foster or permit bullying, harassment and other poor behaviour.

The report identifies seven distinct themes underlying interviewees’ negative experiences: intolerance of questioning or dissent; favouritism and protectionism; marginalisation and ostracism; abuse and intimidatory conduct; sexist and racist behaviour; inappropriate office culture; and lack of empathy and caring. In many instances, the consequences of the bullying behaviour were profound, particularly in terms of the physical and mental health and wellbeing of staff.

The Authority and Police also jointly conducted a survey of all Police employees to ask them about their experiences of Police culture; 40% responded. The survey highlighted many positive features of the culture, with the vast majority reporting that Police is a great place to work.

Overall, however, the survey supports the Authority’s findings and conclusions. It finds that 40% of respondents personally experienced (as distinct from merely observing) poor behaviour towards them over the past 12 months; 26% had experienced an isolated incident of abuse, bullying or harassment; and 9% had suffered sustained bullying.

“The underlying drivers of the culture reported to us tended to be directly related to the operating environment of policing and the lack of expertise of managers and supervisors, exacerbated by inadequate appointment and training processes”, said Judge Doherty.

Society has changing expectations and values, and behaviour which would have been regarded as acceptable, or at least tolerated, in the workplace 20 years ago is now rightly regarded as inappropriate and oppressive. Police are not unique in needing to adapt to changing values.”

The report also finds that interviewees, virtually without exception, had no trust and confidence in the existing mechanisms for addressing bullying and related behavioural problems, or for dealing with low-level matters of integrity. Poor behaviour has often not been confronted and has sometimes even been condoned. The organisation’s response to complaints has been fragmented and unco-ordinated.

These findings are not new. An independent review commissioned by the then Commissioner of Police in late 2019, undertaken by Debbie Francis, identified significant problems with systems and processes. As a result, Police have initiated an Action Plan to implement the findings of that review.

Much has changed in the last 12 months”, said Judge Doherty. “There are positive signs that the organisation has turned a corner. Since the present Commissioner of Police was appointed in April 2020, he and his leadership team have committed themselves to a fundamental change in culture and approach to people management and have put in place a comprehensive strategy and action plan to achieve that. The Authority fully supports the work that is being undertaken and its overall intent and direction, and believes that it will do much to address the negative elements of the culture highlighted in the Authority’s report and promote a more positive ethos and working environment. “

The Authority has not made any specific recommendations in the report. However, it will work with Police to revise the current Action Plan to incorporate the Authority’s findings and monitor Police’s progress in implementing that Plan.

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