Notes on a Scandal: The Official Enquiry into Deviance and Corruption in New Zealand Police

By Rowe, Michael | Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Notes on a Scandal: The Official Enquiry into Deviance and Corruption in New Zealand Police


Rowe, Michael, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology


Since 2004, the New Zealand Police Service has been engulfed by a series of scandals relating to allegations that officers have committed rape and sexual assault and conducted inappropriate sexual relations with vulnerable people. Moreover, it has been claimed that other officers engaged in corrupt practices to thwart the investigation and prosecution of criminal behaviour of police officers. In 2007, a Commission of Inquiry report established a program of reform intended to shape the future direction of the police service. This article provides an overview of these scandals, the context in which they have emerged, and the political and policing response to them. The analysis contained in the Commission report is compared with that offered by comparable investigations of police deviance and corruption in other countries. The methodological and conceptual limitations of the Commission are outlined and the prospects of the recommendations are considered.

Keywords: corruption, police reform, deviance, misconduct, ethics

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As with their counterparts in many other societies, the New Zealand (NZ) police service has tended to enjoy a positive public/self-image for much of the last 50 years. While a catalogue of scandals and public concerns about policing in NZ certainly exists, it tends to be relatively small and to contain incidents relating to specific policing operations (such as claims of mishandling protests against a rugby tour made by the apartheid-era Springboks side in 1981 [Chief Ombudsman, 1983]) of to incompetence in the investigation of particular crimes (Lewis, 1998). The role of the police service in the colonial suppression of Maori communities has also been politically controversial, but much less so than debates about the policing of Aboriginal peoples in Australia (Cunneen, 2001; Hill, 1986). However, in 2007, considerable controversy followed police operations against alleged extremist environmental and Maori groups, the Tuhoe tribe in particular, which were conducted against a discourse of the threat of 'terror' that shapes criminal justice and security activities in many parts of the world (Keenan, 2008; King & Sharp, 2006).

Loader and Mulcahy (2003) argued that policing has been a 'cultural lens' through which the imagined community of English society has been formed and reformed. To change the metaphor only slightly, policing in NZ has often served as a soft focus mirror, reflecting a particularly benevolent image of society (Glynn, 1975). Although this perception might be distorted, and not reflect the concerns and controversies that surround police interaction with some sections of the community, the image of the NZ police has tended to be a positive one. Pratt (1992) argued that the justice system in NZ developed in relation to efforts to create a 'Britain of the South Pacific' in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Just as the police have played an important symbolic role in terms of English national identity, the NZ police have tended to be portrayed as the embodiment of the 'perfect society' (Pratt, 1992).

The high level of legitimacy afforded to the NZ police made the allegations of sexual violence that emerged in 2004 especially dramatic. The impact that the scandals outlined in this article has had on public confidence in the police service has yet to be properly measured, but the huge discrepancy between prevailing public discourse surrounding the police service and the sordid and corrupt practices exposed by the media has generated wider concerns about the effectiveness and future direction of policing in NZ. As is outlined in more detail later in this article, these particular scandals became elevated into 'signal events' around which wider concerns about policing and law and order coalesced. During the period in which these scandals have emerged, a review of the 1958 Police Act, which provides the legislative framework for fundamental police powers, discipline and accountability, has entailed considerable public consultation and has served to keep many issues raised by the scandals on the media and political agenda. …

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