2 Mar 2021

IPCA finds significant elements of bullying within police workforce

2:14 pm on 2 March 2021

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has found significant elements of bullying and a related negative culture exists within the police workforce.

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IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said the negative culture was sufficiently prevalent to give rise to concern and pointed to the pressing need for real change. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The IPCA published its 115-page report, Bullying, Culture and Related Issues in New Zealand Police, today after a review that lasted more than a year.

The review was launched after an investigation by RNZ, in which almost 200 current or former sworn and non-sworn police staff came forward to reveal a toxic workplace culture, in which they said bullying was rife.

IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said "the negative culture did not permeate every workplace".

"However, it was sufficiently prevalent to give rise to concern and points to the pressing need for real change in management and organisational practice."

The findings support reports from RNZ over the past 18 months, with current and former staff saying there are good elements of the police culture, but many senior leaders and a "boy's club" which make for a bullying environment.

The IPCA report identified seven key themes underlying the bullying experiences: intolerance of questioning or dissent; favouritism and protectionism; marginalisation and ostracism; abuse and intimidatory conduct; sexist and racist behaviour; inappropriate office culture, and lack of empathy and caring.

A joint survey between the IPCA and police found two in five police staff personally experienced bullying behaviours in the past 12 months.

More than a quarter of staff said it was isolated, while 9 percent said they suffered from sustained bullying or harassment.

IPCA chair, Judge Colin Doherty, at the press conference ahead of the official release of the joint report with police into pursuits.

IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty. File photo Photo: RNZ / Ben Strang

Management style fosters bullying

One of the key reasons for the bullying culture, according to the report, was the management styles fostered within police.

"[The] unduly authoritarian and directive management style. While we recognise the need for strong command and control in many operational contexts, this style of leadership has become pervasive in all policing contexts and is inappropriate for the routine management of staff," the report said.

"New leaders and managers are not provided with training that puts a value on the ability to plan ahead and consult, and are likely to adopt the style of leadership that has been modelled for them and that they are accustomed to."

It goes on to say some managers put results ahead of people.

"The behaviour of some managers is driven by a desire to achieve results for the organisation regardless of the impact on staff.

"These managers are often viewed as high performers and their poor behaviour as effective leadership."

Concern with appointment process

Those concerns spread to the appointment processes at police.

A 2016 survey showed nearly 70 percent of police staff had no confidence appointments were made on merit, and the interviewees the IPCA talked to echoed those concerns.

"Given the reported intolerance of diversity of thought and the existence of cliques based on loyalty, it is not surprising to find that almost all interviewees complained that these processes are biased and unfair.

"More generally, we were told by many people that in particular workplaces, including Police National Headquarters, everyone knew who was going to be appointed to the majority of positions before they were ever advertised, and there was no point in applying for a position unless you had already been 'shoulder-tapped' for it.

"Senior positions are believed to go to favoured people, regardless of actual or potential skills in leading and managing people.

"Because of the perpetuation of the above appointment practices, often the pool of applicants for senior management positions is likely to be only one or two people.

"The perception is that the subversion of process starts from the top, and that members of the executive and senior officers below them potentially manipulate the appointment process to prevent alternative leadership styles in key positions and appoint friends and like-minded individuals and protégés to senior roles.

"We were given several examples where successful applicants for the job did not have the required qualifications or experience for the position, or were otherwise ineligible (for example, because they were under investigation for misconduct) but were still appointed because the responsible manager wanted them."

Complaints process not up to scratch

The handling of bullying complaints was also in the spotlight.

The police launched its own independent review of how complaints of bullying were dealt with in 2019, after RNZ's reporting, and enacted a raft of changes as a result.

That review saw the Speak Up complaints service police previously used come to a close.

The IPCA said interviewees, "virtually without exception, had no trust and confidence in the existing mechanisms for addressing bullying and related behavioural problems, or for dealing with low level matters of integrity".

"We were given varying accounts of the ineffective ways in which police respond to a complaint or grievance: they ignore it; they leave the problem for so long that it resolves itself because people, typically the complainant, resign from police with or without a financial settlement; they transfer staff, typically the complainant, to different workgroups; or they mount a lengthy and disproportionate investigation that fails to resolve the problem."

The IPCA were routinely told by interviewees that they would never complain of bullying.

"One reported that she was advised by the Police Association not to bother to complain about a known bully unless she was going to leave the organisation, because everyone knew that he was being protected and that she would just be offered a pay-out to leave.

"Complaints, we were typically told, constitute 'career suicide'."

Human resources criticised for role

The Human Resources department, or the police's People team, came in for specific criticism for its role.

Interviewees said it was focused only on protecting the police brand and not addressing the bullying complaints.

"Mechanisms to deal with these behaviours have been uncoordinated and ineffective; supervisors and colleagues fail to intervene, which reinforces the behaviour; and Human Resources (HR) are complicit by removing victims (or the bully) to another workgroup rather than dealing with the matter as a complaint."

A supervisor of someone who was bullied, who was quoted in the report, said HR blamed the victim for their situation.

"I was interviewed by HR and the investigating Inspector both as a supervisor and as a witness to the abusive behaviour.

"It was made very clear to me during this interview that this abuse allegation was not going to be treated seriously and that the person most at fault was the staff member who was abused and made the complaint.

"This attitude gave me no confidence at all that there would be a reasonable and fair outcome to this."

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The report said the present Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster, appointed in April 2020, and his leadership team have committed themselves to a fundamental change in culture. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Data collection an issue

Data collection was deemed a potential issue in regards to bullying.

"The statistics held by police would suggest that the problem is small.

"However, interviewees generally believed that systematic records were not kept, or even that they were deliberately concealed; that complaints were not assigned a file number so that they could not be tracked; and that many were not treated as a complaint at all."


The Authority made no specific recommendations to police following its report, but has made some suggestions around police culture.

It said a reset of the police values are needed to better embody the police Code of Conduct of professionalism, respect, integrity, commitment to Māori, empathy and diversity.

"Essentially, there needs to be a change in emphasis so that the primary commitment is to humanity, kindness, empathy, respect and inclusion."

The Authority also said a new style of leadership and management is needed, "oriented towards effective coaching and management along with operational leadership skills".

A fairer and more transparent appointment process is also needed.

Police have already started fixing those issues, but the IPCA will help oversee the implementation of new systems.

"There are positive signs that the organisation has turned a corner," Judge Doherty said.

"Since the present Commissioner of Police was appointed in April 2020, he and his leadership team have committed themselves to a fundamental change in culture and approach to people management and have put in place a comprehensive strategy and action plan to achieve that.

"The Authority fully supports the work that is being undertaken and its overall intent and direction, and believes that it will do much to address the negative elements of the culture highlighted in the Authority's report and promote a more positive ethos and working environment."

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