A year of accelerated change for New Zealand Police

Case studies

A year of accelerated change for New Zealand Police

Australian Interview, October 2014

Appointed in April 2014, Mike Bush, the Commissioner for New Zealand Police hasn’t wasted a moment. Driven by a passion for transformation, he has made bold, eye-catching and effective moves to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, a workforce that better reflects and understands its community, and lives and breathes empathy for victims of crime. From establishing a new Executive team, to introducing new organisational Values, greenlighting a reality TV show (“Women in Blue”), apologising to a Māori community for past wrongs, and enabling Police Officers to march in uniform at PRIDE, the Commissioner is all about making it real and continuous improvement. By Juliet Bourke - Consulting, Partner.

We interviewed the Commissioner to find out more and what he’s most proud of so far (a story that will touch your heart).  We talked about what he’s trying to achieve, his measures for success and the process of transforming Police from a reactive offender driven organisation to one that is proactive and victim oriented.  

1.     What are you trying to achieve through your change journey?

We are very clear on the purpose of policing.  Like any other police service, we are about people being safe and feeling safe.  Our aim is to ensure that you are not a victim of crime and, equally important, that you feel like you won’t be a victim of crime.  We are very focussed on reducing crime, and the impact of crime, and secondly, on building trust and confidence in NZ Police.  Both are equally important.

We have just remodelled the Executive team and its membership.  It’s a flatter structure, more corporate and more diverse than we were six months ago. We want a diverse Executive so it mirrors our organisation, and our organisation should mirror the community.  Before the changes, we were a group of older white males with little diversity.  Now the Police Executive is more diverse with 25% women, 25% who of Māori ethnicity and a third are non-constabulary staff.   The second reason we want a diverse Executive is to get better decisions.   We want diverse views so we can challenge each other’s thinking and therefore make better decisions – which will lead to better outcomes for the community we serve. 

We have just initiated a new program “Policing Excellence: the Future” which builds on our previous “Policing Excellence” programme.  By most standards you could call us a high performing organisation, but we want to take that to a whole new level.  Our philosophy is “to stand still is to go backwards”.

Seven years ago there was a Commission of Inquiry into police culture and, to put it lightly, that wasn’t favourable.  We have been focussed on improving culture, and “continuous improvement” is how we talk about change.  We build resilience by talking about how we will always embark on continuous improvements. 

2.     You’ve talked about reducing crime and increasing public confidence, how do you measure change?

Since 2010 we have reduced crime by 18%, and public trust and confidence in NZ Police sits at 78%.   That’s probably the best in the world, but we’re not complacent.  We want to build on that and as an Executive we have a common view about how we will achieve that. 

We are in the process of assessing public trust, confidence and employee engagement, but we’d expect to see an increase there as well.  We have high employee engagement already, but we’re not complacent about that.  We want to build on our engagement levels because a more engaged workforce is a more productive workforce. 

We have other metrics that sit under confidence and crime levels, for example our organisational profile and complaints against Police.  We want to see a diverse organisation. We are tracking up – but at quite a slow rate.

3.   What was the process you used to drive change? Was there a sequencing?  Were there key activities?

Our first change programme (“Policing Excellence”) involved driving a whole new operating strategy which is called “Prevention First” which, in simple terms, was putting prevention at the front of business - ensuring prevention comes before the other traditional components of policing, such as investigation and arrest.  And putting victims at the heart of everything we do.  That was transformational – and I don’t use that term lightly.  We were very offender focussed.  It took real leadership to change that mindset, to change from a reactive offender-focussed business to a prevention, victim-focussed business – which we believe is what the Police staff and the community want.  It was a mindset change and it is how you make a difference. 

Driving a victim-focussed Police service, in particular, required a change in approach and mindset – and that is one of the reasons we added two new core Values to our four core organisational Values. Those four Values were “Professionalism”, “Respect”, “Integrity” and “Commitment to Māori and The Treaty” (The Treaty of Waitangi is one of New Zealand’s founding documents).  We added: “Empathy” – which aligns with our victim focus - and “Valuing Diversity”.  So we now have Valuing Diversity as one of our Core Values.

Our Executive believe in demonstrating our Values, so the question is: “How do we demonstrate “Valuing Diversity”?  Like Sydney, we have a Pride Parade and members of NZ Police wanted to march in full uniform in the Parade but were not permitted to do so.  So I and the Executive have demonstrated that we stand for diversity by giving staff permission to march in next February’s Parade in full uniform.   I’ve had a lot of feedback from staff who are going to march to support their LGBT colleagues.   

One way we also demonstrated inclusivity and the values of “Commitment to Māori”, “Empathy” and “Diversity” is what we did to repair our relationship with the community of Ruatoki.  In 2007 Police conducted what came to be described by media as “terror raids” on Ruatoki, a Māori community in the North Island of New Zealand.  This caused great offence to the community – not for what we did, but the way we executed the operation.  The raid has been the subject of intense public criticism, and some actions were found to be unlawful and unjustified by the Independent Police Conduct Authority. So a few months ago, I, together with members of Executive and other officers went back to the community and officially apologised for the way the operation was executed.  We apologised to the community and to innocent members of families who were affected.  That apology went some way to repairing the relationship, not only with that community but with iwi (“tribes”) nationally. 

11% of our staff are Māori and they also felt some offence and exclusion from our organisation as a result of our actions in 2007 and that apology has given them their mana (“authority”) back and they feel a sense of inclusion that they haven’t felt for 7 years in their own organisation.  I have considerable feedback from our staff, iwi and other members of the public that our actions were seen as quite a significant event. 

One of the other big successes from our Policing Excellence programme, is our Alternative Resolutions process. Alternative Resolutions gives low level offenders, an alternative to being arrested, charged and going through the court process, whilst ensuring that victims are still supported. It addresses the offending but gives low level offenders a second chance to get on the right path.  In 39% of cases we now apply alternative resolutions, whereas we didn’t do that at all before we started the initiative. When we looked at the data on that 39%, it showed us that more warnings are given to NZ Europeans than Māori, and Māori are more likely to be arrested.  As a result NZ Police have been accused of bias. My response to that has not been to immediately defend ourselves but to ask if we have an unconscious organisational bias.  If we don’t consider that as a possibility we are never going to change.  We have just started thinking about this and the first step is for leaders to consider it as a possibility.  I’m not rushing to action, I’m giving people time to think through it themselves, only then can we drive a change of approach and mindset.   

One of the other key actions I’m focussed on is increasing the representation of women across the organisation, including in leadership positions. To do that we are focussing on the front end: recruitment.  We have supported involvement in a reality show, “Women in Blue”, which focussed on a number of female officers.  It ran on one of our TV networks for 8 episodes and it was one of the highest rated shows on reality television.  We did that to attract women into NZ Police.  It has only just finished running but we had an immediate increase in applications.  We are also running a governance group – the Women’s Advisory Network – which advises me on any issues, opportunities or barriers to women in NZ Police.

4. Who were the key stakeholders you needed to involve in the change journey and how did you do that?

Our key stakeholders are our own people, so we have had a good consultation process around our organisational Values and we also asked staff for their input into making changes, and they see their input being included in the decisions we make.  We also talk with central agencies and the Minister’s office.  My philosophy is that change is circular. It starts with the Executive, goes to the front line and then their feedback comes back to the Executive.  The Executive then has to demonstrate our Values in the decision-making process and in our actions.

5. What were the risks you needed to mitigate?

Our biggest risk in terms of diversity is not engaging our own people.  If you don’t bring your 12,000 people along with you, the change won’t happen.  And there is a risk of not doing anything.  If you don’t have a diverse organisation you won’t make the best decisions and outcomes you desire. The risk for any organisation is to do nothing. 

6. What else could you do? 

It is always going to be a journey – we are always on it and we will continue to build a healthy culture and one focussed on high performance.

What are you most proud of?

The thing that makes me really proud is when I hear the front line using the language and demonstrating their understanding of the new direction.  I just love one example of the actions taken by Police in a Metropolitan shopping centre when they apprehended a young woman who had stolen a jacket.  In the normal course of events she would have been arrested, but the Police stopped and asked her “Why?”.  She told the Police that she was from a poor family (not that that’s an excuse) and cold.  So the Police took her to a store and bought her a jacket out of their own pocket and then took her home to her family.  They have really embraced the right police model for the community.  At the same time there are bad people who need to be arrested urgently and we are very focussed on that as well.

If you want to find out more about the NZ Police, check out their website at www.police.govt.nz

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