Integrity of police threatened

New Zealanders need to have faith in the police force, a belief that when bad things happen to them, someone will be on their side, helping to right a wrong.

That faith has been sorely tested in past years when police officers themselves have decided they are above the law.

At the extreme end of the spectrum, in the United States, there has been ongoing debate about the role of the police in the shootings of young black men, in particular. Now, a white Australian woman has been shot in a Minnesota alley after calling the police about a possible assault in the alley behind her home.

Most New Zealanders will surmise those sorts of incidents will never happen in this country.

But the line between upholding the law by men and women in uniform and them taking the law into their own hands is becoming increasingly blurred.

This week, the Otago Daily Times has reported on two incidents which have shaken public confidence in the police to the core.

Judge Michael Crosbie criticised the involvement of a senior Dunedin police officer, Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis, in a case in which he had a conflict of interest. The casual approach of the officer resulted in police obtaining an unlawful confession from a woman regarding the death of a Dunedin man.

Judge Crosbie described the police investigation as haphazard and noted the police officer was a friend of the dead man's family.

In another decision, it was revealed the stalker who harassed a Dunedin businessman for two and a-half years was a police officer.

Constable Jeremy Fraser Buis was sentenced to 200 hours' community work and ordered to pay the victim $15,000 after he was found guilty of criminal harassment, threatening to do grievous bodily harm and intentional damage after a judge-alone trial in March.

Occupation suppression was initially granted but the ODT successfully appealed the ruling in the High Court at Dunedin.

Buis and his colleagues indulged in behaviour more befitting a locker room of young teens than of adult men sworn to uphold the law. Claiming the ''boy chat'' was a way to de-stress after a day's work does not hold up.

Counsel Charlotte Carr said to treat a police officer differently could lead to ridicule and contempt from the public and to suppress a particular occupation invites a perception certain classes of persons will be treated differently before the court. The occupation of Buis was regarded as being of significant public interest.

Two years ago, District Court Judge Bernadette Farnan harshly criticised Constable Jason Reid's inquiry work which meant she dropped cannabis charges against two British men. Judge Farnan said she had grave concerns about Reid's sloppy management of the case.

It is easy to dismiss these three incidents as aberrations, going against the fine work usually carried out by police officers. However, history begs to differ.

Campaigner and sexual abuse survivors' advocate Louise Nicholas says there has been a drastic change in attitude in the past decade and she commends the police for their work.

But she admits it is still frustrating to see cases such as Buis'. She says it is absolutely inappropriate and really disappointing the colleagues around those men were allowing this to happen.

After all that has happened in the last 10, 20, 30 years, Ms Nicholas says it is time for police to grow up.

It takes time to rebuild broken trust. The police play an important role in their communities, attending schools, community groups and functions to help us all understand what a difficult job they have.

The integrity of the blue uniform has been damaged, but do not forget there are many police officers still prepared to put their lives at risk to save others. Their reputations should not be tarnished by the actions of the few.

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