Transcript: Police Commissioner Mike Bush

  • 28/11/2015
Transcript: Police Commissioner Mike Bush

Lisa Owen: Police Commissioner Mike Bush is the country's top cop, responsible for more than 8000 officers and keeping us safe from everything from violent crime to domestic terrorism. Now, the scale of that challenge hit home on Friday with the appearance of an Islamic State video naming New Zealand amongst possible targets. Given that video and the Prime Minister's comment earlier about the threat of IS reaching home soil, I started our interview by asking Mike Bush how prepared police are for an attack.

Mike Bush: We are very practised and very ready and very well trained if something does occur in New Zealand, so we're really ready to respond.

As a result of, say, changing threats overseas, have you been doing more of that or specifically doing other things to make sure that you're up to the mark?

Yes, we keep evolving our training. So the Paris attacks of a few weeks ago really made us stop and have a look at what we're training for, and that will continue to evolve. But our front-line staff are trained in a way they've never been trained before. But that will continue to evolve, but our special tactics groups and our armed offenders groups have been training this way for some time.

If we come a bit closer to home, there has been a lot of publicity around these detainees who are returning from Australia. So, I want to talk about the ones that came back before the new monitoring law came in and what's happened to them. Are you able to watch those people?

Look, whether they came in the last two planeloads or whether they came in before, we are aware of who they are, we are aware of what they've done before, we continue to get more information from our Australian colleagues, and if they are of a certain category, then they will be managed and they will be monitored. And we've had very good programmes for monitoring what we would call high-risk offenders, if, indeed, some of them are high-risk.

So how many are we talking about and what kind of categories do they fall in? Are there murderers and rapists, as the minister has said, in the ones that came in previously?

My understanding, I can't be categorical around this, but there are definitely violent offenders in the last two planeloads, drug dealers…

But the ones before, Commissioner? Before the so-called 'Con-Air' flights?

Again, violent offenders, but I can't categorically say there are murderers, but quite possibly so.

So the ones that came in before the two flights recently, do you have a register? I mean, can you tell me how many there actually are?

Look, I could go back and tell you. I don't have the absolute figures with me. But we have a record of all people who are deported to New Zealand. So we work closely with—

More than 100, more than 150?

Yes, I think it is more than 100, absolutely.

So, effectively, there is a register as such of these offenders?

There wouldn't be a physical register that actually had everyone's names, but we could point to who exactly they are.

Okay. Well, you're monitoring these detainees, and that is an example of the more jobs that you are being asked to do without extra funding, because, if you look at the figures, you've had to suck up, I think it is, about 300 million in new costs in the past four years without real budget increases. So where are you trimming to make ends meet?

So, the first thing is we have had an increase in our budget by 41 million recently, but also, like any good chief executive, I have to make sure that I spend the public's purse very responsibly. The other thing we've done recently is through having good technology, mobile phones and good functionality on those, is take the bureaucracy out of the business so our staff are far more proactive.

But you say 41 million. That's 41 versus the 300 million which is in your own annual report, I think, and other documentation. That's a big gap. So have you saved that much through a few gadgets?

So, we've been really efficient within the organisation, and to actually get really efficient through good productivity, we've been able to put the equivalent police hours of 350 more front-line staff on the streets in the last few years through doing those things. And that's why you will see more police officers out there.

Okay, because, I think, by mid next year, you're also having to add a whole new unit to monitor sex offenders with the sex-offenders register that's coming in, and presumably, you've made the cuts and efficiencies that you're talking about. At some point, there'll be no more efficiencies that you can make, and you've got basically around the same amount of money. Doesn't it then become an issue of people questioning, 'Is this compromising the public's safety?' Are you trimming that much?

If I thought there was any compromise, I would be saying so.

Well, also in notes that you've provided for the minister, you acknowledge that Maori are overrepresented as offenders and you say that this could be because of unconscious bias. So you're acknowledging, what, racism in the force?

I think like any good organisation, you have to recognise that there can be some unconscious bias in your organisation, so we've recently started some training with the executive which will filter through the rest of the organisation, because the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it exists. Now, we collect data about how we use our discretion, and we want to make sure that our staff a) acknowledge that every human has unconscious bias and how to deal with that so that we don't apply any unconscious bias to any demographic, because it's really important that we are absolutely fair because we serve everyone in the community.

But when you use that phrase 'unconscious bias' when you're talking about Maori, you mean 'racism', don't you? That's what you mean.

Unconscious bias, we've spent quite a bit of time getting to understand that, and it does not mean that. It's something that everyone inherently has, and it's important that as police officers and professionals, we know how to understand that and ensure that we don't practise unconscious bias.

Because looking at the stats, there's 46 percent of police apprehensions are Maori, 50 percent-plus of police prosecutions involve Maori, 60 percent of Youth Court. You would know these figures, I'm sure. And 50 percent-plus of prisoners are Maori. You've said that you've got to be careful about how you use your discretion. Have you got a problem there at the moment in exercising that discretion?

I think we did, because we collected data right from the start when we started applying something called alternate resolutions, and we saw that there was a bias. So in talking to my people, I wanted them to understand that there could be an unconscious bias and how we deal with it. And I can say since we started—

So being tougher on Maori, you mean by that? Being tougher on Maori when you had a discretion to make a decision?

So as we apply it, and it was really great to see our staff recognise that that perhaps could be something that existed within the organisation, and I can say and it's really positive, since we started having those conversations and talking about it, that the dynamic has really changed. So we're getting far closer to that equality that should be there.

I want to be clear about this, because I think it's really important for people watching. You are acknowledging the fact that when it came to making subjective decisions that perhaps people in the police force were coming down harder on Maori that they were coming across.

So our data which we collected right from the start showed that there was a disparity in the way we applied some of our discretion.

Do you still have a problem there?

So we're moving closer to not having a problem, but you should never be complacent. So we're doing so much to try and work with iwi and Maori to change that overrepresentation, and the representation you're talking about is also applying to victims, to ensure that they're not overrepresented as victims.

Another area of concern that you've identified is violent crime. Why do you think that's still increasing?

So violent crime is increasing in terms of family violence.


And as we know, family violence occurs across every demographic, and no one is immune from it or no community or no demographic is immune. And what is pleasing is that the tolerance for family violence is decreasing, and that's why we're having an increase in reporting.

We talk about family violence there. More than half of violent crime happens in the home as family violence. There were more than 3200 convictions for breaching protection orders in 2014, so that's largely affecting women, who are being injured and, in some cases, dying. The protection orders don't seem to be working. Why do you think that is?

So, there's a number of steps, so protection orders will work in most occasions, but what we have to do is work to ensure that we do everything to keep particularly women and vulnerable children safe from this violence. So protection orders are one method. Nothing's foolproof.

But when you look at those breaches of protection orders and those are just the convictions, is that— are they not working because of poor policing, or are they an ineffective tool?

No, they're an effective tool, but nothing's always effective, so we have to do multiple things.

The Police Association is convinced that there is a spike in incidents involving firearms, and it feels that this has not yet shown up in your statistics, that there is a lag. Do you think that that's possible?

One firearm incident is one too many, and we've had a number in recent times, and we've done a lot in that space around equipping our staff with Tasers and making sure they've got immediate access to guns…

Yeah, but do you think they're right?

They're training.

Do you think they're right about the statistics?

I'm concerned as anyone about the recent increase in crimes involving violence and guns, and that's why we monitor that environment to make sure our people are safe so they can keep the community safe.

Look, you've been under fire this week for contracts that you impose on academics who are using your data and resources. I'm just wondering how on earth you can be promoting transparency and free thought and even learning from things within your own organisation if you hold a veto over research, when you can require researchers to amend their findings if they're negative or not constructive, or you can blacklist them. How can that be encouraging sort of open, free research and exchange of ideas?

So, what's happened in the last week has caused us to really have a look at our policy. It was possibly fit for purpose at one stage. It's not fit for purpose now. We work in a dynamic environment. So that's being reviewed as we speak, both the policy and the decision that was made in respect of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, and I'm sure you'll hear more about our review of that next week. But it's also important to point out that the intent of that was to keep people's information private, and that's why we have some policies and rules.

But people— the public who are looking at that would say if they were to look at the agreement, that is more than protecting people's privacy; it's about keeping a lid on things that are negative for the police or maybe perceived as negative for the police.

Yeah, that's why we will be changing the wording of that policy and what it's about, because the frustrating thing is it's the opposite that's true in terms of where we're at at the moment. We're wanting to build great relationships with academia because we're determined to be a very evidence-based police service.

One last thing I want to ask you about before I go, Commissioner. Last night I spoke to the ombudsman about a complaint that relates to you. It's an allegation that you instructed staff to let an Official Information Act request sit to stall the release of information relating to doctored burglary stats. So I want to give you the opportunity to answer to that. Did you do that?

Absolutely not. For obvious reasons, I kept myself well away from everything that was going on in that space because I was the district commander at the time. So that's absolutely not correct, and, yeah, I distance myself for obvious reasons.

Okay, well, I'm wondering why a police officer would record in his job sheet that you did do that, then. Is that person lying when they say that you did, and I've got the job sheet here if you needed to refresh your memory. The job sheet says , 'The direction to me was not to respond to the Official Information Act request and file the file as it is.' Have you seen it? I've got it.

I have seen it, yeah.

Yeah. So was that officer lying or…?

That officer is absolutely incorrect. That did not occur.

So why would that officer write that on a job sheet?

I have no idea, but I can say it's absolutely incorrect.

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