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President's Column: Empathy and pragmatism on the frontline

New Zealand has been acknowledged internationally for its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and domestic polling would suggest support from a vast majority of Kiwis, even for the rather draconian initial stages of lockdown.

There was no template for managing this disease, and hindsight will provide alternative options that some people will claim we should have taken. But here we are with results that speak for themselves, and we are part of a nation that is in a much better position than many others to start the economic rebuild. There can, however, be no sugar-coating of the economic consequences across the country, for all kinds of businesses and organisations, including the association.

Policing over these past months has gone relatively smoothly. It has highlighted how fortunate we are to have one police service that can implement nationwide strategies in a clear, consistent and well-communicated manner.

A single police service does not, however, mean one size fits all. Throughout the lockdown, Police as an organisation and, more importantly, individuals within that organisation have shown a capacity to target responses according to particular community needs.

We have seen empathy and pragmatism in the interpretation and execution of the necessarily restrictive rules. The corollary of that was plenty of commentary on the powers police were given, including whether they actually had the power to respond as they did. Being quick to criticise is human nature, made so much easier when the critic will never be judged for their decisions or actions.

Police does not have such luxury, especially in emergencies with no clear guidelines to follow. In fluid situations, police often need to make quick decisions and act on them. They may not always get it right, but I am confident in their abilities to understand the intent of their actions and apply them impartially. Officers need to know they have done their best, just as we expect them to do their best. Aotearoa is policed by consent and I believe we can be proud of the cooperation we have seen between police and the public in these challenging circumstances.

That brings me to the issue of iwi checkpoints which were, understandably, the subject of much debate over the past weeks. They were an initiative born of a determination to protect vulnerable elders in certain Māori communities. The spectre of the disproportionate death toll for Māori during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic fuelled such protective instincts. Perhaps we need to have a conversation about the need for such flexibility and understanding when we are through the Covid-19 health ramifications.

One encouraging positive from the checkpoints has been reports of a lessening of the barriers between police and some remote Māori communities. That’s what happens when people spend time together and realise they have much more in common than they thought. I hear officers on the East Coast enjoyed the experience and report the hospitality and kai they were treated to were second to none.

I have also had good feedback from members about the way PNHQ responded to staff concerns. The daily briefings and establishment of an 0800 number for staff helped circumvent the communication void that often dogs emergencies. The association also worked closely with Police to identify issues as they arose and it was good to see Police respond quickly to most situations.

As a country, we have many challenges ahead as we deal with the fallout from Covid-19. We have learnt much about ourselves, our communities and our resilience. We have also seen that we have a world-class police service that is highly capable of responding for all New Zealanders in any crisis. On the frontline and behind the scenes, officers and Police employees have been at their best over these past months, and for that they deserve the recognition and appreciation of their fellow New Zealanders.

Kia kaha

Chris Cahill

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