The New Zealand Police (Māori: Ngā Pirihimana o Aotearoa, literally The Policemen of New Zealand) is the national police force of New Zealand, responsible for enforcing criminal law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace throughout New Zealand. With over 11,000 staff it is the largest law enforcement agency in New Zealand and, with few exceptions, has primary jurisdiction over the majority of New Zealand criminal law. The New Zealand Police also has responsibility for traffic and commercial vehicle enforcement as well as other key responsibilities including protection of dignitaries, firearms licensing and matters of national security.
The current Minister of Police is Paula Bennett. While the New Zealand Police is a government department with a minister responsible for it, the Commissioner and sworn members swear allegiance directly to the Sovereign and, by constitutional convention, have constabulary independence from the government of the day.
Origins and history
Policing in New Zealand started in 1840 with the arrival of six constables accompanying Lt. Governor Hobson‘s official landing party to form the colony of New Zealand. Early policing arrangements were along similar lines to the UK and British colonial police forces, in particular the Royal Irish Constabulary and the New South Wales Police Force. Many of its first officers had seen prior service in either Ireland or Australia. The early Force was initially part police and part militia.
At the outset, official establishment of sworn constables holding common law powers to arrest people was achieved by magistrates being given the power to swear them in via the Magistrates Ordinance of 1842. By 1846, the emerging organisation of a police force was recognised with the passage of the Armed Constabulary Ordinance. New Zealand’s early police force continued to grow with the colony and was further enhanced with additional structure and rules with the passage of the first Police Act, the New Zealand Armed Constabulary Act of 1867. The Armed Constabulary took part in military actions against Māori opponents Riwha Titokowaru in Taranaki and Te Kooti in the central North Island in the dying stages of the New Zealand Wars.
From the police force’s beginnings in 1840 through the next forty years, policing arrangements varied around New Zealand. Whilst the nationally organised Armed Constabulary split its efforts between regular law enforcement functions and militia support to the land wars, some provinces desired local police forces of their own. This led to a separate Provincial Police Force Act being passed by the Parliament. However, provincial policing models lasted only two decades as economic depression in the 1870s saw some provinces stop paying their police as they ran out of money. Eventually, the government decided a single nationally organised police would be the best and most efficient policing arrangement.
The New Zealand Police Force was established as a single national force under the Police Force Act of 1886. The change in name was significant, and provincial policing arrangements were dis-established and their staff largely absorbed into the newly created New Zealand Police Force. At the same time, government took the important step to hive off the militia functions of the old Armed Constabulary, and form the genesis of today’s New Zealand Defence Force, initially called in 1886 the New Zealand Permanent Militia.
Just a decade later, policing in New Zealand was given a significant overhaul. In 1898 there was a very constructive Royal Commission of Enquiry into New Zealand Police. The Royal Commission, which included the reforming Commissioner Tunbridge who had come from the Metropolitan Police in London, produced a far reaching report which laid the basis for positive reform of New Zealand Police for the next several decades. A complete review of Police’s legislation in 1908 built significantly off the Royal Commission’s work.
A further Police Force Act in 1947 reflected some changes of a growing New Zealand, and a country coming out of World War II. The most significant change in the structure and arrangement for police came after the departure of Commissioner Compton under a cloud of government and public concern over his management of Police in 1955. The appointment of a caretaker civilian leader of Police, especially titled “Controller General” to recognise his non-operational background, opened the windows on the organisation and allowed a period of positive and constructive development to take place.
In 1958, the word “Force” was removed from the name when legislation was significantly revised.
The Police Act 1958 was extensively reviewed starting in 2006, after a two and a half year consultative process the Policing Act 2008 came into effect on 1 October 2008. The process included the world’s first use of a wiki to allow the public to submit or propose amendments. The wiki was open for less than two weeks, but drew international attention.
More recently, the New Zealand Police has been involved in international policing and peacekeeping missions to East Timor and the Solomon Islands, to assist these countries with establishing law and order after civil unrest. They have also been involved in Community Police training in Bougainville, in conjunction with Australian Federal Police. Other overseas deployments for regional assistance and relief have been to Afghanistan as part of the reconstruction effort, the Kingdom of Tonga, Thailand for the tsunami disaster and Indonesia after terrorist bombings. New Zealand Police maintains an international policing support network in eight foreign capitals, and has about 80 staff deployed in differing international missions.
Although headed by a Commissioner, the New Zealand Police is a decentralised organisation divided into twelve districts. Each district has a central station from which subsidiary and suburban stations are managed. Each District has a geographical area of responsibility, three communications centres that each receive calls from *555 traffic, 111 emergency or general queues, and a Police National Headquarters that provides policy and planning advice as well as national oversight and management of the organisation. As of December 2014, there are 371 community-based police stations around the country with nearly 12,000 staff who respond to more than 600,000 emergency 111 calls each year.
The Commissioner is in overall charge of the New Zealand Police. Assisting the Commissioner are two chief officers in the rank of Deputy Commissioner: Deputy Commissioner-Resource Management; and Deputy Commissioner-Operations.
Five chief officers in the rank of Assistant Commissioner and the Director of Intelligence report to the Deputy Commissioner-Operations. The Assistant Commissioner-Investigations/International is responsible for the National Criminal Investigations Group, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (OFCANZ), Financial Crime Group, International Services Group and Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police Secretariat. The Investigations and International Group leads the prevention, investigation, disruption and prosecution of serious and transnational crime. It also leads liaison, overseas deployment and capacity building with international policing partners. The Assistant Commissioner-Operations is responsible for Community Policing, Youth, Communications Centres, Operations Group, Prosecutions and Road Policing. The remaining three Assistant Commissioners command geographical policing areas – Upper North, Lower North and South. Each area is divided into three to five districts.
District Commanders hold the rank of Superintendent, as do sworn National Managers, the road policing manager in the Waitemata District, responsible for the motorway network and traffic alcohol group, and the commandant of the Royal New Zealand Police College. Area Commanders hold the rank of Inspector as do Shift Commanders based in each of the three Communications Centres. District Section Commanders are typically Senior Sergeants. The New Zealand Police is a member of Interpol and has close relationships with the Australian police forces, at both the state and federal level. Several New Zealand Police representatives are posted overseas in key New Zealand diplomatic missions.
The Police also work closely with the Serious Fraud Office.
New Zealand Police operate three communications centres that are responsible for receiving 111 emergency calls and general calls for service and dispatching the relevant response. The centres are:
- Northern Communications Centre, based in Auckland and responsible for the northern half of the North Island, down to Hicks Bay, Desert Road south of Turangi, and Awakino
- Central Communications Centre, based in Wellington and responsible for the southern half of the North Island, from Mokau, Taumarunui, the Desert Road north of Waiouru, and Te Araroa in the north
- Southern Communications Centre, based in the Christchurch Central Police Station, responsible for the South Island
A police employee becomes a constable by swearing the oath under s 22 of the New Zealand Policing Act 2008. Upon doing so the constable receives certain statutory powers and responsibilities, including the power of arrest. While constables make up the majority of the workforce, non-sworn staff and volunteers provide a wide range of support services where a constable’s statutory powers are not required. Rank insignia are worn on epaulettes. Officers of Inspector rank and higher are commissioned by the Governor General, but are still promoted from the ranks of non-commissioned officers. A recently graduated constable is considered a Probationary Constable for up to two years, until he or she has passed ten workplace assessment standards. The completion of the above is known as obtaining permanent appointment.
Detective ranks somewhat parallel the street ranks up to Detective Superintendent. Trainee Detectives spend a minimum of six months as a Constable on Trial after completing an intensive Selection and Induction course. During these initial six months they are required to pass four module based exams before progression to Detective Constable. They are then required to continue studying with another six exam based modules as well as a number of workplace assessments. Once the Detective Constable has completed all of this they are then required to sit a pre-requisite exam based on all of the exam based modules they have previously sat. If they are successful in passing this they attend the Royal New Zealand Police College where they complete their training with the Detective Qualification course before receiving the final designation of Detective. All of these requirements are expected to be completed within two to three years.
The rank of Senior Constable is granted to Constables after 14 years of service and the Commissioner of Police is satisfied with their conduct. Senior Constables are well regarded within the New Zealand Police for their extensive policing experience, and are often used to train and mentor other police officers.
Detective and Detective Constable are considered designations and not specific ranks. That is, Detectives do not outrank uniformed constables. Nevertheless, a police officer with a Detective designation will generally assume control of a serious crime scene rather than a uniform staff member regardless of rank.
Notable policing events
On 8 October 1941, four police officers were killed by South Island farmer Stanley Graham, 40, who fired on them as they attempted to seize arms from his residence in the locality of Kowhitirangi. Graham had earlier threatened a neighbour with a rifle, and Constable Edward Best from Kaniere went to investigate. Graham allegedly opened a window and displayed two rifles, prompting Constable Best to seek assistance in the neighboring town of Hokitika.
Later that day, Constable Best returned with Sergeant William Cooper, 43, and Constables Frederick Jordan, 26, and Percy Tulloch, 35. After a short conversation inside his house, Graham shot and wounded Sergeant Cooper and Constable Best after Sergeant Cooper apparently reached to disarm Graham. He then fired at Constables Jordan and Tulloch as they ran into the house, killing them both instantly with the one bullet. When the badly wounded Cooper attempted to leave to obtain help, Graham shot him dead on the path in front of the house. Best was shot once more after allegedly attempting to plead with him, and died three days later. Graham also fatally wounded a field instructor for the Canterbury education board named George Ridley, who had entered Graham’s property to assist any wounded along with an armed local, whom Graham threatened and disarmed. The next day, Graham returned to his house, only to find it occupied by three armed Home Guard personnel, two of whom he fatally wounded after a firefight.
After widespread searches in the district, two policemen and a local civilian saw Graham carrying his rifle and ammunition belts on 20 October. He was shot by Constable James D’Arcy Quirke with a .303 rifle, from a distance of 25 meters, while crawling through a patch of scrub. He died early the next morning in Westland Hospital, Hokitika.
The police investigation into the murders of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe in 1970 was a turning point in the public’s perception of the police. A royal commission subsequently found that the police had planted evidence and framed Arthur Allan Thomas for the murder. Writer Kieth Hunter believes this introduced “a cynicism (in attitudes towards the police) that infects us today.”
During the 1981 Springbok tour, the police formed two riot squads known as Red Squad and Blue Squad to control anti-apartheid protesters who laid siege to rugby union fields where the touring team was playing. Police were described as being heavy-handed with their batons as they tried to ‘subdue’ protesters opposed to the Springbok tour. The tour had a significant effect on public perceptions of the police who since this time “have never been viewed with the same general benign approval”.
In July 1985, the New Zealand Police arrested two French Action Service operatives after the Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk in Auckland harbour. The rapid arrest was attributed to the high level of public support for the investigation.
In October 2007 at least 17 people were arrested in a series of raids under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Arms Act 1983. The raids targeted a range of political activists allegedly involved in illegal firearms activity. The case dragged on for nearly four years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Much of the surveillance evidence was found to have been gained illegally and charges against all but four defendants were dropped. The remaining four were charged with firearms offences, found guilty and sentenced to terms of imprisonment and home detention.
On 20 January 2012, the police flew in by helicopter and arrested Kim Dotcom and three others in Coatesville, Auckland, in an armed raid on Dotcom’s house following United States indictments against him for on-line piracy via his internet file sharing company, Megaupload. Assets worth $17 million were seized including eighteen luxury cars, giant screen TVs and works of art. According to Dotcom, about 80 police officers were involved in the operation; the New Zealand police claimed it was between 20 and 30. The incident became controversial when a district court judge ruled that the warrants issued for the property seizures were invalid and it turned out the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had broken the law when asked by police to spy on Dotcom.
Counter-terrorism and military assistance
The NZ Police are accountable for the operational response to threats to national security, including terrorism. If an incident escalates to a level where their internal resources are unable to adequately deal with the issue (for example, a major arms encounter or a significant terrorist threat), the Police Incident Controller may call on extra assistance from the New Zealand Defence Force and in particular NZ’s Special Forces, the military focused New Zealand Special Air Service and terrorism focused Commando Squadron (D Squadron). Control of the incident remains with police throughout. As of 2009, the two military counter terrorist units have never been deployed in a domestic law-enforcement operation. Military resources such as Light Armoured Vehicles have been used and requested before, such as during the 2009 Napier shootings, and Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopters from No. 3 Squadron are often used to assist in search and rescue and cannabis eradication operations.
In 1964, the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) was created to provide a specialist armed response unit, similar to the Metropolitan Police Service‘s SC&O19 in the United Kingdom. In addition to the AOS, the New Zealand Police maintain a full-time counter-terrorist unit, the Special Tactics Group (STG). Similar to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, the STG train in dynamic entry and other tactics vital in high-risk situations. The STG train with the SAS and are the last line of law enforcement response available before a police Incident Controller calls in support from the military.