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Outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush says there is no place for bulling in Police.

Bullying under review

Police staff are no strangers to claims of bullying and intimidation in the workplace, but increasing awareness and intolerance around such behaviour have pushed the issue into the spotlight this year.

With outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush repeatedly saying there is no place for bullying in Police at the same time as more than 100 current and former staff shared their stories in the media, a nothing-to-see-here approach was not an option.

Police has also admitted that its Speak Up policy, which hasn’t been well received by all staff, has not been working as it should.

As a result, not one, but two independent reviews into bullying in Police have been launched in the past two months.

The first is being done by Debbie Francis, the same person who last year led an external review of bullying and harassment at Parliament. The results of that process made uncomfortable reading, summarising a “toxic workplace with a systemic bullying culture”, and included a list of recommendations.

The objectives of the Police review are not as broad, stating simply that Ms Francis will check whether Police has appropriate systems and processes in place to prevent and respond to bullying. The wording indicates that the existence of bullying is a given.

The review will not investigate or make findings about any specific allegations of bullying or individual incidents.

The scope includes:

  • Assessing Police systems and processes against State Services Commission and WorkSafe NZ standards and guidelines, and benchmarking against other public sector agencies
  • Reviewing Police policies, procedures and training
  • Identifying themes or patterns in the handling of complaints.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Conduct Authority announced in October that it would also be investigating bullying in Police, but with a wider brief, including looking at specific complaints and the broader culture of Police and trying to ascertain what it is that allows bullying behaviour to occur.

IPCA general manager Warren Young has said specific allegations or other information can be emailed to him at bullying@ipca.govt.nz.

Written reports will be available at the conclusion of both reviews.

The Police Association knows that bullying occurs in Police and has previously voiced concerns about the Speak Up process.

In the association’s 2019 members’ survey, 25 per cent of respondents rated workplace bullying as a serious or very serious problem in Police – a significant figure and a 5 per cent increase since the 2017 survey.

They rated bullying as the most serious issue in Police culture, ahead of sexism and racism, although many comments from respondents showed that allegations of “bullying” often sat alongside criticism of accountability of middle and upper management and perceptions of sexism and racism.

Association President Chris Cahill says the survey results show the need to “identify if there are cultural concerns that need addressing and processes that require a fresh set of eyes”.

The association supports a restorative justice approach to workplace conflicts and allegations of bullying, with the responsibility for that falling on Police as the employer.

“This is not an easy option or an easy out for perpetrators of bullying. To the contrary, it is a challenging and confronting process, involving all those who are affected.

“There are situations when an employment investigation is necessary and entirely appropriate, but this would be at the severe end of the bullying spectrum.

“Restorative processes allow for a holistic approach involving all those affected by what is going on.”

The association’s advice to staff is that if you are comfortable raising workplace issues directly with your manager, that should be the first step. Otherwise, contact a Police HR adviser.

In the association’s 2019 members’ survey, 25 per cent of respondents rated workplace bullying as a serious or very serious problem in Police.