Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Police need to be respected, not feared

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Society's decline reflected in contempt for force

When oh when are the powers that be going to do something effective about law and order? It is a matter that has, in the past couple of weeks, lurched from urgent to critical.

For evidence of that, just recall the vicious and mindless assaults on four police officers that happened on the weekend before last.

As usual, all we have had so far is a series of knee-jerk reactions from politicians, senior policemen and the police officers' union.

Prime Minister John Key and Police Minister Judith Collins talk about introducing harsher penalties for attacks on police. They say that this would send a clear message that police should be "feared and respected".

But the last thing we need is for our police to be feared. That would not only rob them of any respect we might have left for them, but would really put us on a par with Third World, Communist and former Communist countries.

What we need is our police force to be restored to a state whereby it engenders and deserves the public esteem, admiration and co-operation it held for most of last century when we considered it among the finest in the world.

Said Mr Key on TV: "... we hold our police officers in high respect and rightfully so ... And I think they are entitled to know that they are treated by society in that way."

Well, Mr Key has spent much of the past three decades overseas and may be unaware of the gradual decline in the public's respect for the police, but the fact is that we no longer hold them in the high regard we once did.

However, it has to be said that no blame for that attaches to the vast majority of policemen and women who are dedicated to their tasks and carry them out to the best of their ability.

It can be put down, rather, to political interference and to the readiness of a series of tame senior officers to kowtow to their political masters whose interest is not in achieving the best policing possible but in trying to convince the voters that they are doing something (anything will do) about law and order.

This has led, for decades now, to a series of unwise decisions regarding the police, the worst if which was to bring traffic enforcement under their umbrella.

That - far more than a commissioner being nobbled for drink-driving, senior policemen in court on historic sex charges or policemen behaving badly when off duty - has led to the decline in respect for the force.

How ironic it is that in the midst of the furore over the assaults on police it is revealed that 1353 (16 per cent) of the 8467 constables, sergeants and senior-sergeants nationwide have failed their physical fitness tests and won't get a pay rise.

However, just in case anyone is thinking that I blame the state of the police force for this latest unconscionable spate of assaults, think again.

Over the years that regard for the police has been in decline, the state of our society has been in godless and immoral freefall.

Much of that, too, can be put down to unwise political decisions, many of which have been perpetrated in spite of majority opposition.

Among them, of course, was the Shipley National Government's decision to lower the drinking age which has - as I predicted back in 1999 - led to an epidemic of drunkenness, and all that flows from that, among teenagers as young as 12.

But deeper than that has been the breakdown in family life with its huge increase in one-parent families; an economic system that forces both parents to work in order to survive; and the informality of a dumbed-down education system.

These alone have contributed to an increasing lack of respect on the part of children and young people towards parents, teachers, adults in general and any form of authority, including police.

To make matters worse, society has been so thoroughly indoctrinated with the victim mentality that any time police officers use reasonable force to subdue violent offenders there is a hue and cry.

It is no wonder that policemen and women are reluctant to use weapons, including their truncheons, when all they can expect from a benighted section of the community is to be reviled and abused.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad says he is considering putting more guns in patrol cars in response to escalating violence against frontline officers. Other people recommend a gun on every police officer's hip. Those, surely, have to be last resorts.

I have suggested a Royal Commission of Inquiry into law and order, including policing and the justice system. I doubt anyone has the political courage to make that happen.

So in the meantime it would be a good idea for the police hierarchy to ensure that no officer is ever alone in a patrol car, at least at night.

- NZ Herald

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