Police push to get more women into the force

By Mohamed Hassan

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A lack of desire to relocate and the PERF scheme of the 1990s are to blame for why there aren't enough policewomen in senior positions, the Police Association says.

Only three of the country's 41 current superintendents are women, and to date, there has never been a female commissioner or assistant commissioner, police said, and there has been only one deputy commissioner.

A new recruitment drive to get more women into the police force was announced this morning, as part of three initiatives highlighting the role of policewomen in New Zealand and enhancing their ability to excel across the organisation.

The announcement was made by Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who said it was a priority for New Zealand police to better represent the community.

"We're looking for new, young leaders with communication skills, empathy and problem solving abilities," Commissioner Bush said.

"These skills are crucial to prevent crime and victimisation in our communities."

The drive focuses around a new reality TV series, Women In Blue, which follows the working lives of seven female police officers.

The series, premiering this month, will cover the personal and professional lives of the women, from detective work to search and rescue.

The Police Women's Advisory Network has also been set up by a number of senior women within police to support the recruitment and development of women leaders.

Superintendent Sue Schwalger was involved in setting up the network, and said there was no single fix for lower representation of women in senior roles, but many of the historical barriers had now been removed.

"Sometimes I was the only woman in a unit, so it's about having that support and the encouragement to know that you're appreciated and supported by those around you," Ms Schwalger said.

"When you're the minority, you're the only one sitting at the table, but you can make a difference."

President of the Police Association Greg O'Connor said the problem was the national ranking structure of the police, which discouraged those who weren't prepared to be relocated throughout the country.

"We're a national police, that means that for people to get promoted through the ranks, that means you have to be prepared to shift around to different districts," said Mr O'Connor.

"Often, the reality in the past is that often males have generally been in a better position to do that than females for a variety of reasons. That's always been something that's been an issue in New Zealand."

He also pointed to the The Police Employment Rehabilitation Fund (PERF), designed to help those who are physically or psychologically unfit for duty, which resulted in an unprecedented amount of police officers leaving the force.

"There was a generation of females in the 1990s and early 2000s who left police under the old PERF scheme, which is now discontinued. And that meant that those people who left weren't able to come back later. That was also a generation that was missing but I think that's now been rectified."

Female police officers now represent 22 per cent of the lower ranks, and Mr O'Connor said a lot of them were ready to go to the next level, but it was important that promotion was for the right reasons.

"In my discussion with females, the last thing any of them want is to be seen to be given an easy ride."

In 2007, a commissioned inquiry into police conduct concluded that a heavy "male dominated" culture was present throughout the force, making it difficult for women to feel comfortable.

Ms Schwalger, who is also National Manager of Professional Standards for police, said a lot more was now being done to create a safe environment for those in the organisation.

Women In Blue premiers on TV One at 7.30pm on April 22, and will run for a total of eight episodes.

- APNZ

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