3 Mar 2020

Police bullying hotline 'should be discontinued and replaced' - review

3:56 pm on 3 March 2020

Police will replace its current complaints system - Speak Up - with a new external helpline after a review into how the organisation deals with bullying complaints.

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Photo: RNZ / Patrice Allen

It is one of 30 recommendations made the review's author, Debbie Francis, launched after reporting by RNZ of a widespread culture of bullying within police.

RNZ has talked to more than 150 current and former police employees, who said bullying was rife within the organisation.

Francis said she did not find evidence of systemic bullying, but noted the scope of her review was of the procedures in place for dealing with complaints of bullying.

She was critical of the Speak Up system, saying calls to the hotline were referred to the independent charity Crimestoppers.

"The calls go to Crimestoppers, which then supplies police managers in the relevant district with anonymous but verbatim records of calls," the report states.

"Many staff, perhaps on the basis of unclear communications, expect to contact a more active helpline that can provide them with advice and even counselling should they report an incident of bullying or harassment.

"Staff generally call the line because they feel unable to go directly to their line manager or another local supervisor. In this regard it is difficult when the information goes from Crimestoppers directly to people in the relevant chain of command. This may have a negative effect on others wanting to raise issues or make complaints."

The report said the system did not filter complaints, which was done by Human Resources staff "who try to align complaints with other data sources such as the Early Intervention system that applies to sworn staff".

"For all of these reasons I believe that the current Speak Up function should be discontinued and replaced with a new channel for safe and secure disclosures from complainants.

"I suggest that this should be an independent, externally hosted helpline staffed by trained professionals who can provide at least basic advice and counselling and can escalate calls that require more expert help."

It said the primary focus for the channel should be to provide care to the complainant.

"In summary, while operational policing has successfully moved, over the last decade, from a prosecutorial focus and offender centred mindset, to a prevention focussed, victim centred mindset characterised by high trust problem solving, this has not always been matched by an internal shift in the same direction.

"Police need to bring their Prevention First operating model indoors and behave the same way inside their organisation that they do outside it. Problems need to be resolved early, at the lowest level and with the central focus being the needs of the people harmed by bullying or other inappropriate behaviour."

People RNZ spoke to were highly critical of the Speak Up system, saying complaints made about senior leaders were referred straight to those leaders.

Police admitted last year that some senior leaders did not understand how the Speak Up system should be used, causing confusion.

It said it was likely leading to some of the problems staff were having.

Francis said police needed to better train some leaders in coaching skills, and said a restorative approach to dealing with bullying complaints should be enacted.

She also recommended developing a specialist internal team of investigators, trained in employment law, to undertake formal investigations into disciplinary matters and ensure members worked to consistent processes and timelines.

Police commissioner Mike Bush said the 30 recommendations had been accepted.

"Work is now under way to implement the report's recommendations," Bush said.

"An implementation plan will be in place by the end of March and I expect all 30 recommendations to be actioned within 12 months."

Replacing the Speak Up system was a key priority, he said.

"Bullying has no place within New Zealand police - but, like any workplace, the reality is that there will sometimes be behaviour that occurs that is not acceptable.

"Preventing bullying or ensuring it's dealt with effectively are absolute priorities.

"Police has successfully implemented a prevention-first operating model in the way we police, and we want to start taking this approach inside the organisation."

The Independent Police Conduct Authority is working on a separate review into bullying within the police, taking a broader scope which includes the underlying culture at the organisation.

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