Bullying in the police: Victim reveals identity and wants 'to see change'

7:24 am on 30 September 2019

A former detective who suffered from bullying for more than a decade in the police has decided to reveal his identity because of the way the organisation has reacted to bullying claims.

A police officer out in the community. 6 July 2016.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Peter Farrell was one of 21 sworn and non-sworn police staff spoken to by RNZ over a 10-month period, all saying bullying was widespread in the organisation.

Since then, a further 50 current and former police employees have come forward with their stories of bullying in the police.

Mr Farrell met with RNZ in March, and did so as a serving officer and under the condition of anonymity.

He said he feared the repercussions if it was known that he had talked to the media.

Mr Farrell has since left the police, and said after hearing comments from Police Commissioner Mike Bush and the head of people and capability, Kaye Ryan, rejecting claims bullying was widespread in the police, he changed his mind about revealing his identity.

He said the way they brushed off accusations of a bullying culture left him angry, and he felt Mr Bush in particular was sticking his head in the sand.

Mr Farrell came to New Zealand after a successful career with the British army and the British police, and said the bullying culture was apparent almost straight away.

"It's never been physical," he said.

"I would prefer to call it mental abuse - snide remarks, snide comments, acting towards you in a certain way, ignoring you coming and speaking over when you're having a conversation with somebody, just coming in.

"These people just taking over and dealing with you disrespectfully, which you wouldn't expect from your colleagues, even your supervisors, you wouldn't expect it but it happens.

"I know it sounds minor. But when it's constant, and you're just totally ignored, it's not good. It just builds up and builds up and builds up.

"And the people that are doing it to you know they're doing it."

Mr Farrell said he would head to work every day and be worried about what would happen to him.

"You end up walking into work and you go into the station, and you think what's going to happen now?

"You dread seeing these people, even when you're in the changing rooms, and you're getting ready for work, and they might be there. You just can't talk. You can't say anything.

"Your feelings inside start taking over, you become very nervous inside. You get butterflies in your stomach but not butterflies of happiness or elation at meeting somebody, it's butterflies of nervousness of what's going to happen. What are they going to say how are they going to treat me today? What's gonna, what's gonna happen to me again today, and inevitably something does."

Mr Farrell said bullying is widespread, and in his district it was led from senior sergeant level and above.

"It starts at senior sergeant, you know, they're really the main leaders that are on the floor, and it starts with them and they choose their favourites, get them in their club.

"And then once they've got this little club together, they just act against those that they want to act against and treat them terribly.

"It's not nice, and I've been on the receiving end of it.

"What I'd ask anybody, don't judge anyone. Don't judge anyone until you've walked in their shoes. Because it's horrible, really horrible."

Mr Farrell sat down with RNZ twice, in February and March, for a total of almost three hours.

He was in tears throughout the interviews as he recalled the bullying he had faced at the hand of colleagues.

During his time with the British Army and the British police, he said he never experienced bullying like he experienced in New Zealand.

Mr Farrell is one of six former British police officers RNZ has talked to who have experienced bullying since making the move to New Zealand.

They all said the culture within the British police was much better, and less focused on the pseudo-military structure used here.

They said rank and power goes to the heads of many senior managers.

Mr Farrell admitted that he considered suicide at one point, but the support of his family is what kept him going.

He said talking about it does not help him, but he said light needs to be shined on the bullying culture.

"I can talk until I'm blue in the face about it," Mr Farrell said.

"But also, every time I do talk about it ... Our conversation today has been going on now for just over an hour. This is going to take me days to get over this. Days.

"Last time we spoke, I think it was three in the morning, before I was coming to bed, I was going to bed, you know, going over it over and over again.

"I wake up in the night, and I go over it because I can't sleep because it wakes me up. And I go over it and over it and over it. And it's been going on for months, in fact, years.

"It's just, it's just not right."

Mr Farrell said he wants there to be an independent investigation of the police culture, and said they need to be free of any interference from the police.

He said investigators should have the freedom to talk confidentially to police officers and staff, which would allow people like him to talk about bullying.

"I just personally would like to see change," he said.

"I'd like to see change for the younger police officers coming through the system now that haven't even joined the police yet.

"I wouldn't want to put anybody off joining the police because it's a great job. It's, it's a great job. And as a police officer, I've loved every minute of it.

"The only part I've not loved is the treatment."

In an email to Mr Farrell, deputy chief executive Kaye Ryan admitted the police could have done more to resolve issues he had raised regarding colleagues at his station.

She said the police force needs to do more in dealing with bullying, and it is clear they are not there yet.

Ms Ryan has also asked Mr Farrell to meet with his former area commander to discuss his treatment, with a view to ensuring the treatment he faced does not happen to other staff in future.

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