IPCA report reveals 'significant' bullying in NZ police, two in five staff subjected to poor behaviour in past year

Two out of every five New Zealand police staffers reported poor behaviour towards them in the past 12 months and nearly 10 percent  have fallen victim to sustained bullying, a new report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has revealed.

Bullying, Culture and Related Issues in New Zealand Police was released by the IPCA on Tuesday, revealing there were "significant elements of bullying" in some workplaces. The report found 26 percent of police staff experienced isolated incidents of abuse, 9 percent had suffered sustained bullying, and 40 percent personally experienced poor behaviour towards them in the past year.

The report also reveals details of a "boys club", where poor behaviour was condoned by leaders. The review came after RNZ reports more than 150 police staff had come forward with allegations that bullying was rife within the force.

"Society has changing expectations and values, and behaviour which would have been regarded as acceptable, or at least tolerated, in the workplace 20 years ago is now rightly regarded as inappropriate and oppressive," IPCA chair Judge Colin Doherty said in a statement.

He noted these findings aren't new. Former Police Commissioner Mike Bush already ordered a review into bullying and harassment in late-2019, which was carried out by consultant Debbie Francis. 

The IPCA report released on Tuesday morning says negative experiences towards police staff included intolerance, favouritism, marginalisation, abuse, sexist and racist behaviour, and a lack of empathy.

Major consequences resulted from the bullying in terms of the physical and mental health of staff, the report says.

"The underlying drivers of the culture reported to us tended to be directly related to the operating environment of policing and the lack of expertise of managers and supervisors, exacerbated by inadequate appointment and training processes," Judge Doherty said.

But he noted things had started to change since current Police Commissioner Andrew Coster had taken over.

"Much has changed in the last 12 months," Judge Doherty said.

"There are positive signs that the organisation has turned a corner. 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."

Police Association President Chris Cahill said what some staff have gone through is very real.

"When you add a negative workplace to the stresses of policing, the consequences can be severe. 

"We know that finding themselves marginalised, intimidated, up against an autocratic style or caught in the midst of inappropriate office culture pose serious threats to the mental health of our members.

"That is why this report is valuable. It lays out the next steps for police in an ongoing process that they must stay committed to."

Coster on Tuesday welcomed the IPCA report.

"The authority's report provides us with a deeper understanding of where we need to focus our efforts," he told a news conference.

"A positive culture is fundamental to effective policing as how we police is very much affected by how we work with each other.

"How we support one another impacts how we serve the public."