Editorial: Our police show their human side

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Inspector Gary Davey speaks to young people on Fort Street in the early hours of Thursday morning. Police are showing a heavy presence since changes in alcohol law came into place. Photo / APN
Inspector Gary Davey speaks to young people on Fort Street in the early hours of Thursday morning. Police are showing a heavy presence since changes in alcohol law came into place. Photo / APN

It was one of the most gut-wrenching of jobs: telling the nation the body of 2-year-old Auckland girl Aisling Symes had been found.

The little girl's disappearance brought New Zealand almost to a halt. Kiwis held their breath as police and volunteers searched west Auckland four years ago.

Waitakere area police commander Inspector Gary Davey was the man charged with finding Aisling. But on the night of October 12, 2009, he stood in front of the community and the TV cameras, his blue uniform crisp but his head bowed, and delivered the grim news. He stumbled slightly over his words, paused, then paused again. He swallowed, and tears welled. The girl's body had been found.

Two years later, Davey quit as Waitakere area commander after a review revealed some of the lowest morale in the country. He took responsibility for that, and took the fall - but it's worth giving some thought to the demands New Zealand puts on its police, and the way we treat them. Most of us would suffer poor morale if we worked such hard and dangerous hours, for so little thanks from the people we dealt with.

Last Saturday night, the Herald on Sunday went out on the beat with Inspector Davey, now Auckland district crime manager. The picture we publish today tells the story better than any words.

It was 3.10am on Mayoral Drive, and an inebriated young woman had been trying to jump over the railing of a bridge into the carpark below, fighting a friend who pulled her back. Police told she needed to go home. She protested, pushed her girlfriend away.

The picture is one of simple humanity, quieting a drunk, out-of-control young woman. Fingers to his lips, Davey spoke softly to her, reassuring and calming her.

Police say nothing good happens after 3am. Yet, despite his seniority, Davey goes out on the night beat once a month. And he was just one of a dozen police whom Herald on Sunday journalists and photographers accompanied last weekend on the streets of New Zealand's biggest cities. We saw them deal with great professionalism and humanity with violent drunks who, quite frankly, didn't deserve such courtesy. We also saw them deal firmly with those who posed a danger to themselves and others.

It is easy to criticise the police. Indeed, it is right to hold them to a very high standard. To those whom great power and authority is given, from them great responsibility is demanded. When police are violent, corrupt or incompetent, the harm done is enormous. In recent years we have seen New Zealand police convicted of sex crimes, dealing drugs, corruption and more.

But we have also seen a police force that is determined to cut off its diseased branches in order to be the best it can be. It is one of the better police forces in the world.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall's three-year term ends on April 2. He has been responsible for enforcing new standards implemented in the wake of the Clint Rickards inquiry.

Like Gary Davey, he has led from the front. Recently he was off duty in Wellington when a car jumped a red light, nearly causing serious injury. He diligently called it in - only to discover that the driver was a senior diplomat. The diplomat was fined, and paid up.

We should be proud to have a police force that, on the most part, enforces the law without fear or favour. And we should be proud of officers that, even dealing with violent drunks at three in the morning, act with humanity.

- Herald on Sunday

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