Real crime is the motive to present medley of mayhem

By Nick Grant

Series casts police in positive light, finds Nick Grant.

Criminal stories are told through police eyes in the new series of NZ Detectives.
Criminal stories are told through police eyes in the new series of NZ Detectives.

It's an understatement worthy of some kind of award to say I have mixed feelings about the return of NZ Detectives. It consists of three hour-long episodes inviting viewers to "see through the eyes of detectives of the New Zealand Police Criminal Investigation Branch" as it presents "untold stories behind New Zealand's worst cases and the hunt for those whodunit".

I recognise there's an enduring fascination with this kind of programme - witness the plethora of fictional police procedurals cluttering the schedules. If it bleeds, it generally leads to big audience numbers and therefore advertising revenue, thanks to many people's irresistible urge to rubberneck at others' misfortunes, so it isn't difficult to fathom networks' desire to screen such shows.

But if popularity were the only yardstick we used to measure the desirability of anything, then P would be jostling for space with still-legal-for-the-next-couple-months-highs at the corner dairy.

Beyond the morbid appetite anticipated for the first episode's greatest hits compilation of horrible homicides (the second episode apparently focuses on "detecting the drug dealers and the war on drugs"), what (or whose) purpose does the programme serve?

It's certainly not seeking to increase the sum of human knowledge, as is made clear by the obvious observations made in the opening minutes.

And despite being one of this country's leading thespians, even Robyn Malcolm can't make much of the narration sound like anything other than the trite tripe it is.

To add insult to grievous injuries, the once-over-lightly way in which cases are covered (by my count there are 10 featured in an episode that's 44 minutes long once ads are taken out) not only doesn't provide any in-depth insight into police investigation techniques, it can't hope to do justice to the victims, their loved ones, or the cops who solved them.

That said, the police are portrayed in an extremely positive light - it's through their eyes, remember - so while some of those participating in the programme might wince at the simplistic way their work is presented, the benefits in terms of burnishing the image of the force are clear. So much so that I'm a little surprised the Police Association isn't an official sponsor.

Let's face it, that image has been somewhat tarnished of late, with reminders of controversial police conduct in the Crewe case and regular news coverage of cops ending up in the dock for various offences.

Of course the vast majority of police perform their necessary and often awful job with dedication and integrity. That's evidently the case with all those featured on NZ Detectives, and the best (albeit brief) bits of the episode illustrate the toll the job can take on them.

But I do question the motive - beyond the desire to fill the space between those all-important ads - of presenting a medley of murderous mayhem at a time our crime rate is reportedly at historic lows, largely thanks to an ageing population. Ultimately, the series contributes to an increasingly unfounded climate of fear, which is a disservice to us all.

* NZ Detectives premieres Tuesday, 9.35pm, TV One.

- NZ Herald

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