FOR THE RECORD - Column

By Reon Suddaby

Retirement timing carries scapegoat whiff
The release of a damning report into police culture appears to have already claimed one high-profile scalp, and is yet another blow to our nation's already beleaguered thin blue line.
Several years after historic sex allegations against former Assistant Police Commissioner Clint Rickards and fellow officers Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum sparked investigations into police culture, of which Tuesday's Pricewaterhouse Coopers report is simply the latest instalment, Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope has announced his retirement.
Mr Pope claims he advised Police Commissioner Howard Broad of his intention to quit several weeks ago, but the public announcement of his decision, just a day after the report was released, is surely no coincidence.
Police Minister Judith Collins also damns Mr Pope with faint praise, with a spokesperson for the minister advising that she would not comment on his announcement, other than to acknowledge that he had worked hard in a tough job and that she "wishes him the very best for the future."
For a woman who's made an art form out of verbally eviscerating boy racers, to remain tongue-tied on such a significant departure from police ranks seems odd indeed.
This week's report revealed that despite efforts to reform police culture, nepotism, discrimination against women and poor performance among senior staff remained huge problems.
On the face of it, Mr Pope's argument that it was in the best interests of police that he not re-apply for his position, to allow the organisation to make a fresh start when new commissioner Peter Marshall takes up his role in April, makes sense.


But there's also a sense that a scapegoat was needed regarding the police culture issues, and Mr Pope, himself no stranger to headlines after overseeing the investigation into the disappearance of Marlborough teens Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, may well be that scapegoat.
Mr Broad has criticised the report, describing it as "a huge slapping", and that its overly negative focus could mean a setback for police.
Police Association president Greg O'Connor has unsurprisingly echoed Mr Broad's concerns and has suggested it would be better if future reports of this nature were not made public.
Frankly, this idea is nothing short of complete nonsense.
The horse has bolted, and because of the prurient nature of the public's interest in the allegations which first led to concerns over police culture, that interest is unlikely to wane for some time.
By their very nature, jobs which are carried out in the public eye inevitably attract demands of higher standards from that same public, and any indiscretion is frowned upon.
This happens with the media, and it happens with the police, too.
If the police are to enforce this country's laws, they are expected to themselves adhere to those laws.
Many people will also hold them to a higher moral standard.
Some may see that as unfair. After all, police officers are just as liable to make the same mistakes that make the rest of us human.
But that fact's hardly a revelation, and anyone signing up at police college would be naive in the extreme to ignore the elevated expectations most New Zealanders place on our law enforcement officials.
But while the report's findings may well leave police feeling disgruntled and disaffected, as Mr O'Connor suggests, it should be the least of their concerns.
They should probably be more worried about the disgruntled and disaffected criminals who increasingly are lashing out at police working on the front line, making the job of protecting this country's citizens more dangerous than ever before.
Changing the culture of an organisation comes from within, and takes time.
Having said that, there's no doubt that police have made significant progress since the 2007 Commission of Inquiry.
As the newest report shows, there's still a long way to go but it's obviously a journey Mr Broad and Mr Pope are no longer willing to make.
Reon Suddaby is the Bay of Plenty Times chief reporter.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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