Bullying in the police: 'It absolutely destroys you'

9:45 pm on 10 September 2019

A former constable had suicidal thoughts because of the persistent bullying he faced during his time with the police.

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Photo: 123RF

The man was a police officer for nearly three decades in England and New Zealand, but said he quit a few years ago due to mental stress.

He is one of 40 current or former police staff who have told RNZ bullying is widespread in the police.

Making the move to New Zealand for a better lifestyle, within weeks he said he noticed a completely different culture.

The man said he was left out of staff emails by his boss, then told off for not knowing crucial information. He said he was also sworn at and abused.

Eventually, he said, the pressure told.

The man agreed to talk under the condition of anonymity, and said that kind of culture needs to be exposed.

"It really, it destroys you. It absolutely destroys you," he said.

"I remember going to the doctor and I just broke down. I felt about an inch tall, I really did.

"I had to go, otherwise I think I would have, well, I would have, I would have topped myself, I really would."

On Monday, when RNZ broke the story of widespread bullying in the police, 21 sworn police officers or non-sworn staff members who had personally experienced or witnessed bullying in their jobs had spoken to RNZ.

They were from different parts of the organisation, based in different locations, and were not at all familiar with one another.

In response to that story, 40 people had come forward, who wanted to blow the whistle on what they said was a toxic culture within the police force.

The former British constable said his direct boss sought to ostracise him.

"Well, he wanted me to be isolated, and it's a difficult job to do in the first place but when you know you haven't really got the back-up behind you, he was putting my life in danger, I thought.

"There wasn't one sort of thing, that was why it took me so long to realise what was happening, if you know what I mean.

"It was just one small thing after another, after another, after another."

He said those who pushed back against the bullying were in line for more.

"Once you start standing up for yourself, then that's when they get the hatchet out and they really go for it.

"They really went for me, and I just couldn't handle it anymore. I'd had enough."

Since leaving the police, he said he was in a better headspace, but he did not feel any immediate relief on leaving the police.

He said it was hard to leave a job he had always wanted to do.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush declined to be interviewed about bullying in the police last week.

However, when approached about it at the opening of the new Auckland police headquarters, he said he did not think it was part of the police culture.

"We do not tolerate bullying in our organisation," Mr Bush said.

"The culture inside the New Zealand Police has changed significantly over the last 10 years and it's a very, very positive environment.

"But as the Commissioner, I'm determined to ensure that our workplace is a safe workplace for everyone.

"We've set up good systems to ensure that if people feel they're being bullied, they've got some place to report it."

Staff have told RNZ they do not trust the Speak Up hotline, which was established to deal with anonymous complaints.

They said the complaints were often directed straight to their bully - who was more often than not their direct supervisor.

Mr Bush was asked what he would say to the 40 people who had come forward anonymously.

"I say to them, anything that gives you concern, come to see us, we'll deal with it, because it's not the way we lead inside the organisation.

"We have a very positive, very healthy culture inside the organisation, and I'm here to ensure that's maintained and everyone that works for us is safe."

Police minister Stuart Nash told RNZ in a statement the bullying issue was an operational matter for the Commissioner to handle.

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