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“It has simply become worse – some would say the worst they have seen.” – Police Association senior legal adviser Harley Dwyer

“Please, can you just stop? We can’t take this any more.”

The emails to Police were clear.

“They knew we weren’t coping,” says Kate*, whose husband Andy* was the subject of a criminal and Police employment investigation.

“They can’t keep dragging investigations out. It has to stop. Because someone will die. A child will lose their parent. Our kids lost [their father] for a good chunk of a year or two, because he was so depressed. And that is just not fair.”

The Police Association board has the same fears, agreeing that an embedded culture of delays in Police’s disciplinary process may well lead to a member’s death.

“We are very concerned that the ongoing stress caused by delays and a view that Police has abandoned [members under investigation] will result in a suicide. The harm this is causing Police’s own people is unacceptable and must stop,” the board says.

The association has repeatedly raised the issue of delays in criminal complaints and Code of Conduct investigations over the past decade. The board feels the association’s views have been acknowledged and then ignored, allowing a culture of delays to become entrenched across all groups involved in such investigations.

“This has resulted in a general view from investigators that they are not accountable for these delays and that the member concerned has no right to take issue with them. This cannot continue.”

The board is calling for immediate change. “Such investigations need to be resolved in an urgent timeframe, which includes dealing with matters at the appropriate level and with a proportionate outcome.”

Members and the families of those who have been through the disciplinary process agree.

Two years in purgatory

Ethan* has been the subject of Police Code of Conduct allegations since early 2022 – almost two years later, it’s still ongoing.

Initially, he was put on alternative duties in a work group “where… the naughty people are sent”. Apart from an initial letter, he says, he heard nothing from Police until six months after the allegations were made. Then, after nine months, he was told he would be put on restricted duties.

“That came out of nowhere, it was quite stressful. I thought f*** that and decided to take all of my leave. I tried to keep busy so I wasn't sitting around thinking about stuff. But it's quite hard. I’d been to the doctor a couple of times and was given antidepressants.”

Ethan says the pressure he was feeling during the drawn-out ordeal affected more than his mental health. “It got to a point that I had to get a prescription for Viagra because I couldn't even do ‘that’.”

He says he has gone from being easy-going to feeling bitter and angry, his children are now anti-Police and his wife is incensed.

“We don't treat criminals the way we treat our own people. We really don't,” Ethan says. “That’s probably one of the things that makes me bitter. We hold everyone in Police to this standard but the department can’t even hold itself to its own standards.

“[Police will] come up with a story about how busy they are, and they’ve got to do the job properly. Well, your excuse doesn't fly… Some prosecutors around the country are doing 10 times more work. Why can't you?”

Ethan returned to work on restricted duties after his leave and then finally learnt that, of the long list of initial allegations, only a handful of low-range complaints had been upheld. But talks of mediation, a reset meeting and a grievance raised by the association mean his case is not over.

“Even if someone was guilty of everything they were accused of, the punishment should be less than two years in purgatory.”

It's psychological abuse

Andy was accused by a fellow police officer of using excessive force during an arrest. He thought the first step would be giving him a chance to explain himself. “But that didn't happen. That was the first shock for me. The first communication that I had was a supervisor saying, ‘Give us your keys and give us your ID card. You’re stood down’.”

One standdown became many. His colleagues had been told to steer clear of him, leaving him feeling hurt and alone. He was stressed about paying his bills after losing all his allowances and his wife eventually had a breakdown over how long things were taking.

Andy says his mental health was also suffering and he had to seek help from an out-of-town psychologist. “If it just about brought me to a cracking point, I guarantee it would destroy other people.

“But I honestly thought it would be days, weeks, maybe a month, and then it would be resolved. I was living week to week, hoping I would get some clarity… The disgusting thing was the lack of information, the lack of progress, the lack of support. You are treated like a number, not a person. Police hold all the cards.”

He was forced to take a job scrubbing floors in a cafe to pay his mortgage.

It would be a year before he would get some kind of traction – a court date. Andy’s lawyer advised him that if he wanted his job to be safe, he would have to accept some responsibility for what had led to the charge. If he fought it, he would no longer be a police officer.

“I thought, ‘These are the best years of my life and I'm wasting them cleaning a cafe’. So, I said, ‘Nah, let's just get this done and then we'll get back to work’.”

He was discharged without conviction on a lesser charge. There was light at the end of the tunnel. Then he was told Police was starting an internal investigation from scratch. “I was still scrubbing floors. They know I'm struggling to pay my bills. It’s psychological abuse.”

It would take another year for the Police disciplinary investigation. Andy couldn’t hold on. He felt he had no other choice than to leave Police if he wanted to get on with his life.

“For two years, one of the most insignificant moments in my policing career became this recurring nightmare… I realised they don't want me, there was no way back... You're not coming back.

“In the end, it's not what I've done, it's not what anybody else has done, it's how terrible the Police process is. It's just such a slow-moving, bloody train wreck.

“If they just had a quick process to deal with these things and expedite it, you wouldn't have all the fallout… I dedicated over a decade of my working life to Police, I truly believed in what we were about. Then when it comes time to show that faith back, [Police] just says see you later. I felt like I'd been completely swindled.”

Timeliness on agenda

Director of integrity and conduct Superintendent Jason Guthrie says Police is acutely aware that criminal and/or employment investigations can place significant strain on employees and their whānau.

Every effort is made to complete them as quickly as possible, he says, “but this must be balanced with the need to conduct thorough, objective and high-quality investigations that withstand scrutiny and, importantly, afford natural justice for our employees”.

“With that said, it is acknowledged that despite every effort, some cases regrettably take longer to resolve than anybody would want.

“Police is in active discussions with the association and taking a continuous-improvement approach to reviewing the operating mode of Te Ohu Manawanui (TOM, the Employment Resolutions framework). In addition, the Organisational Culture Governance Group recently commissioned work to identify opportunities that would enhance the timeliness of inward-facing criminal investigations,” Jason says.

From a tribunal to TOM

The Police disciplinary process has taken many forms over the past 15 years.

In 2008, in a bid to bring Police in line with other employers, it moved from a tribunal to hiring employment practices managers in districts and an objective external panel. Panel members determined if a matter was indeed serious misconduct. It took around three months to conclude and for Police to decide the outcome.

In 2013, Police considered the disciplinary process too lengthy and external panel members too costly. Disciplinary matters were then handled completely internally. Decisions to dismiss someone were devolved to district commanders/national managers, and employment investigations were undertaken by Police staff through professional conduct.

In 2015, a new principles-based Code of Conduct was implemented and, in 2016, a new disciplinary process was adopted. Still concerned with the disciplinary process, in March 2019, Police consulted with the association with particular focus on the pain points. Delay was a consistent concern, which the association hoped would be rectified by a full rethink of the process. Concerns over heavy-handed disciplinary processes being employed were also raised. The association believed there were instances where lower-level responses were much more reasonable and would dispense with an exhaustive process.

In 2022, TOM was born. Thirty-nine new positions were created to assist with, and to progress, employment investigations. This was intended to be a just-culture approach, holding people accountable for behaviours, but dealing with things at the lowest possible level. The association was hopeful TOM would facilitate speedy outcomes while fostering the employment relationship and focusing especially on the wellness of employees.

Despite the attempts to fix what the association considered a broken disciplinary system, association senior legal adviser Harley Dwyer says delays have been exacerbated.

“The welfare of employees has taken a back seat to a bureaucratic, lengthy and centralised disciplinary system that has lost its way. The system is more jammed up, more people are suffering and more people are being broken by the process.”

He acknowledges there are some amazing people trying hard to achieve what the TOM process set out to achieve, but it is not delivering what the association hoped.

“We expected 39 employment-focused employees, investigators and specialists would help to streamline and progress matters in a timelier way. In practice, it has simply become worse – some would say the worst they have seen,” Harley says.

“We acknowledge that Police remains alert to the issue of delay, but we are experiencing an unacceptable increase in members turning to psychologists and suffering ongoing mental distress to the point of requiring medication to simply cope with Police’s disciplinary process,” he says.

The association does not want to see its worst fears become a reality – that a member is lost to Police and their family and friends forever. 


*Names have been changed to protect members' identities.

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