There's trouble in paradise. To name a few examples, there's climate change, a broken mental health system, deteriorating health care generally, a housing crisis, homelessness, child poverty. The list reflects neglect begun under previous governments, including an earlier Labour one that pursued debunked monetarist neo-liberal economics. But make no mistake, in the musical chairs of political games, the last nine years under National have done much to exacerbate the problems and little to mitigate much less recognise them.
I've been hoping for National under Simon Bridges to come up with plans from a more conservative perspective that help to clean up the mess left largely by the Key government. Instead, Simon Bridges is proposing a new disaster to distract and divide. Bridges wants to reduce all our problems to one: gangs.
Bridges would demonise gangs despite their numbering 6700, according to Barry Soper (Chronicle, November 29). Mr Bridges would make them a threat from which he alone can rescue us, by reproducing here Australia's police strike force Raptor, whose bully-boy tactics will carry National to victory in 2020.
Australia offers much to emulate — their cricket skills, for one — but their regard for human rights, not so much. Simon's Raptors would smash the gangs, dismantle their pads, ban their patches. The cops will disrupt and harass gangs every day so as to "eliminate" them.
I've had numerous occasions to work with and observe police in my work as a forensic psychiatrist. For the most part, I found them to be capable, competent and dedicated servants of the law. Which is not to say that there were not also a few who I felt were overeager in their use of the power granted to them.
In my opinion, it's almost inevitable that extraordinary powers given to a group with policing authority will be abused and the more power they have , the more likely it is that they'll abuse it.
My principal concern is for the women and children who will be witness to their fathers' humiliation or experience forcible entry to their homes and resultant PTSD. But the effect on the police concerns me almost as much.
While police must occasionally use force in performance of their duties, discipline and professionalism act to keep such force as exception. When it is made the rule it acts to degrade officers both short and long-term.
Our country already has a serious problem of bullying reflected in domestic abuse. From "serve and protect" we're to convert an elite force to harass and bully and expect that those germs will not spread throughout the society.
There's been some pushback, some from within Bridges' own party. Newstalk ZB's Barry Soper reminds Bridges of the NZ Bill of Rights that mandates equal treatment of all, even of lawbreakers. There's also Paula Bennett's claim last year that some people had fewer human rights than others.
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I'm glad to compliment former National MP and ex-cop Chester Borrows. Since leaving Parliament he's had a change of heart and now recognises his own flawed support for bully action against gangs in Whanganui, which he says didn't work in the face of social failures that made gangs possible in the first place. And the unnecessary cost here: $1,261,209.35 in legal fees alone.
Current National MP Harete Hipango weighed in. Having taken issue with her past stances, I'm pleased to find common ground in her concern for the effects of such policing on families and children. "Such force," she says, "may well create more risk than safety."
Safety is paramount as a basis for complex human interaction. Safety for society at large comes in the reliable assurance that we can care for one another in strife as well as daily life.
A Strike Force Raptor transplant does the opposite of improving safety, by reifying "us versus them" attitudes, promoting fear and distrust of police in affected communities, as well as actual harm to women and children and degrading the disciplined professionalism of police themselves. Ultimately, police bullying affects us all.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.
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