Police credibility

The dreadful and depraved Roast Busters matter has now morphed into another serious issue - the credibility of the police.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall, on Morning Report yesterday, claimed criticism about whether the police had misled the public over its investigation was a ''distraction'' from the central inquiry.

''Anyone would think we are the bad guys,'' he said.

No, Mr Marshall. Much as the behaviour of the Roast Busters appals and must be pursued, the police handling of the case has become a second major and perturbing subject.

The public's faith in the police has again been rattled. And that is very, very sad.

The police represent us all, the community, in the fight against crime. They are the bastions of law and order and we, the public, need to support them and they must support us.

Most of the time, we are justifiably proud of our force - one of the least corrupt in the world, dedicated men and women who are part of our community and who are respected. They have difficult and at times ugly jobs, undertaking tough tasks beyond the capability of most of us.

But either the police this week were highly incompetent or they lied to their public. In either case, their credibility is undermined. This is a black and white, open-and-shut case. On November 4 a police statement said there was ''no significant evidence such as formal statements''.

On November 7 a police statement - after TV3 revealed a girl had complained - admitted ''four girls identified as victims, one formal complaint''.

During the week, the police were running the line their hands were tied because of a lack of complaints. By Thursday, the tune had changed.

And Mr Marshall wonders why the police have now, too, become a focus for investigation. Can we, for example, now believe even his claim that he and senior police were misinformed? Probably, but who knows.

And if they were, why wasn't the Waitemata District superintendent told of the complaint soon after the false statement was made on Monday? Why did it take a media revelation before an admission later in the week? It is not as if the police do not have form.

Go back all the way to the planting of the Arthur Allan Thomas cartridge case - again revealed by the media - and police credibility has been on the line before. Mistakes with evidence in other high-profile cases have not helped.

However, it was the allegation officers in Rotorua raped teenager Louise Nicholls and the subsequent inquiry and 2007 report into that matter that revealed disturbing police attitudes to women and a culture that needed changing.

All the more reason, therefore, for the police at whatever level to be honest with the public on such a sensitive matter.

All the more reason for Mr Marshall late this week to be somewhat apologetic rather than belligerent when interviewed.

His primary motive seemed to be to back his staff. That is fine to a point, but he instead appeared to embody a siege mentality and did few favours to the very many police doing a good job. Attempting to play semantic games certainly did not help.

Complicating matters is the involvement of a police officer's son among the Roast Busters. While there are instances of the police prosecuting their own, it is human nature they will be sensitive to fellow officers.

It is natural for police to look after each other, especially because of the type of their work and the often prevailing attitude of ''us against the world''.

It might well be the formal complaint was thoroughly investigated, handled appropriately and prosecutions were not possible in a notoriously difficult area. But, again, credibility once lost leaves a long trail of doubt.

Another question arises. Why for two years was the Roast Busters site only monitored when, surely, more decisive and effective action on several fronts could at least have curbed the abhorrent behaviour, even if prosecutions were not possible?

We want to trust the police and believe in them. Mr Marshall said it was ''in police DNA'' to seek to prosecute if they possibly could. The concern is that other attitudes are embedded in the DNA of some police as well.

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