I spent the first half of my working life in the police, a career I thoroughly enjoyed, mostly, and one I would highly recommend to any young person who is of a mind to try to make a difference in their community in a positive way.
If you have not been a cop, you really have no idea what police have to do every day of their lives. Assumptions are made from what the public sees on their televisions or read in the papers. The reality is, like all things, a lot different to sound bites and uninformed opinion.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has been coming under fire from many sides, including his own staff for alleged "wokeism".
Wokeism is defined in the MacMillan Dictionary as "a disparaging term for attentiveness to claims for equality and representation from minority groups".
For some reason, many members of the public, a well-known politician and some members of the police feel that being attentive to the claims of minority groups in our society for equality and representation is worthy of ridicule in a police commissioner.
I do not know Andrew Coster. He did not join the police until 1997, five years after I left and only 24 years ago.
In that time he has managed to obtain a Bachelor's degree in Laws (Hon) and a Masters degree in Public Management, leave the police and work for the Auckland Crown Solicitor for a period, re-join the police and rise to the top, including a two-year period as deputy chief executive to the Ministry of Justice from 2016 to 2018.
An incredible journey in such a short period of time.
New Zealand police commissioners all rise from constable, have done since 1912 when John Cullen became the first New Zealand police officer to do that.
This means the road to the top can be long and challenging, with every rank worked and many transfers to chase the next promotion.
Whilst doing this, a degree or two must be obtained part-time if not obtained before joining.
Most police commissioners are appointed within five or so years of their possible retirement, having taken maybe 35 years to work their way up the ranks, keep out of trouble, gain academic qualifications, be outstanding at their job as a police officer, be astute enough to know how to manage large areas of New Zealand whilst keeping the public and local authorities satisfied as the local district commander and stay fit and healthy. This is not for the faint-hearted or incompetent.
In my experience, only the very best achieve the highest office in the police and have the privilege of carrying the commissioner's baton. It is a very lonely role. You may have a vision of what you would like to achieve whilst you hold that baton, usually a short period, around five years normally but maybe a bit longer on occasions.
Every commissioner must have a vision of improving the police service or moving it forward.
The art of keeping the peace and catching crooks has not changed radically since the days of Robert Peel but society changes all the time and the police need to be able to change with it.
This is what Commissioner Coster is doing. He has a vision, perhaps of a fairer society where the police are more part of that society.
New Zealand's policing has been based on the London Metropolitan Police model of policing since the formation of the modern service in 1886.
The crux of this model is that the police can only operate with the consent of the community it polices.
If a community does not support its police, the police are virtually powerless to act unless the model of policing is coercive or paramilitary.
This model is the basis of Coster's vision. One that has maybe drifted because of other pressures and societal changes in recent years, but it is the root of our policing system, the policing system of any decent democratic society.
Coster is facing, what is in my opinion, uninformed criticism from the likes of Simon Bridges. He will also face some internal resistance to change.
Every organisation, and the police is certainly no different, resists change for a period before acceptance arrives.
In my opinion, Andrew Coster seems a decent man, highly qualified for the role of commissioner, highly intelligent and, by all accounts from people who know him and worked with him, a very good policeman and a very good boss.
He has a challenge in front of him changing or stopping certain police practices that worked over the years but do not work now.
New Zealand, compared to many other countries, enjoys a mostly corruption-free police, still outwardly unarmed and with highly approachable staff. Never compare it to American police, a different model completely.
New Zealand Police Website – Executive roles.