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Troubling Examination: Exposing abuse of NZ Police recruits

The sustained abuse of police recruits should have been arrested when concerns were first raised. Being required to undertake a medical examination that was invasive, inappropriate and outside of anticipated boundaries meant police recruits suffered.

To put this in context, in 2007 the NZ Police faced a Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct. Five monitoring reports undertaken by the Office of the Auditor General followed. Each report is available to read. And yet, several years of this process overlapped with instances of abuse.

But abusive behaviour is frequently perpetuated. Red flags that signal something serious is unfolding often have to accumulate before action is taken.

Those in leadership positions can sometimes remain oblivious to patterns, even when victims clearly communicate their concerns, both verbally and within targeted surveys. Sidling into the perception that a concern wasn’t made formally, therefore, apparently,  it didn’t matter, just doesn’t wash.

It takes courage to speak up, to confide and to detail deeply personal and career-impacting information.

It is especially challenging when abusers, corruptors and fraudsters achieve positions of status and power that impress colleagues. Some professions, including those within the medical sector, stand apart in this regard.

In particular,  when it’s the word of a victim against a respected perpetrator almost everything is on the line. Perpetrators benefit from operating in a domain that is believed to be beyond reach and above reproach.

The NZ Police already knew this.

Exposed as yet another entity to have a faltering commitment to speaking up, ‘we are trying’ is stated in an Office of the Auditor General document, but members of staff didn’t observe the basics. And, ‘trying’ when the commitment isn’t embedded throughout the force or service (whichever way you look at it) will never achieve the best outcome.

At the core of a strong speak-up culture is the belief that no matter who is being questioned, or what is being alleged, status and power must not influence the response.

Everyone is capable of ethical lapses.

As the ugly reality of what police recruits had to endure spills forth, there is an opportunity to discuss, from an ethics and speak-up perspective, what could and should have been done better.

External Services are more trusted and lead to more reports because of their arm’s length independence

The NZ Police did institute a speak-up programme. However, reporting to internal managers was a requirement and several police recruits had done just that.

The anonymous reporting line was also manned internally and it’s reasonable to assume that callers may have doubted the extent of the confidentiality.

To move beyond the intimidatory nature of power and status is to better appreciate the role of an external speak-up service.

External service providers such as Report it Now, who have been operating from their New Zealand base since 2007, are removed from the damaging influence of colleagues and bring complete neutrality. The people involved are trained to review and listen in order to gain an accurate insight into a concern.

This is possible because there is no prior knowledge of the reporter or their place in any hierarchy.

External services ensure there is a paper trail and a means to track and trace concerns over time

It was a feature of the eventual investigation by the ICPA that “despite several conversations and attempts to find any written records no other lines of review or enquiry have been able to confirm who else in the early 2002 may have had this reported to them or what if anything was enquired into”.

It is overbearingly convenient when important conversations that include red flags aren’t noted. This may well reflect a culture where staff are discouraged from ‘making waves’ through escalating concerns.

Report It Now Global, for example, offers case management software, EthicsPro® captures every interaction related to all submissions or reports.

Surveys require careful as well as methodical analysis and assessment

There is a tendency to use surveys to aggregate data across geographical boundaries without any consideration of how findings might intensify within a certain area or experience. It is also common for data to be gathered to create charts that only allow percentages to carry weight. But it is in the commentary, the boxes where people are encouraged to expand on their ranking scale or mark, that valuable content lies.

Whoever read or gained access to the surveys that were implemented to check on the experience of recruits with the recruitment process did not recognise the seriousness of what they read. Nor, it seems, were they prepared to do anything about it.

Effective Communication

The fourth monitoring report, undertaken by the Office of the Auditor General states:

‘Our impression was that while most staff now felt more able to “call” or report inappropriate behaviour, they did not always feel assured that management acted on complaints in such a way to change behaviour. Actions taken in response to reporting are not always visible enough to staff which risks staff becoming unwilling to report breaches of conduct or raise matters of concern.’

Not believing corrective action will be taken is often cited as one of the top three reasons that employees do not report concerns. Visibility however is not the only consideration. Often it is maintaining communication with the reporter, allowing them to know that their concern is being taken seriously, looked into or investigated. Any investigatory process needs to have integrity and a time frame with regular updates. Delaying communications or simply not engaging with the reporter creates a vacuum that builds both anxiety and distrust.

Broader Reach

Again, the IPCA report states:

‘It is understandable that recruits were reluctant to complain to Dr Z given that the Police had sent them to him, and they were seeking employment with the Police. Some recruits thought Dr Z was only doing what was required during a police medical and it was not until they later became aware of other recruit’s concerns that they considered they should raise potential issues regarding their own medicals.’

In all investigatory processes casting the net wide and immediately seeking to verify or challenge what occurred is an important step. An external service such as Report it Now makes it easy for others who may share the concern to also speak up as soon as they feel ready to. This immediacy brings relief to everyone involved – allowing attention and resourcing to remain focused.

Further, submitters access the service via the Report it Now Case Management software EthicsPro®.  This enables secure communication between them and an internal Ethics Committee which is set up, with input from Report it Now as appropriate, to undertake an investigation.

Management and mitigation of conduct risk

Had the police recruits been provided with insight into what would take place within the medical examination they would have been better able to control and challenge. But without any prior briefing, they went into the unknown. Most believed what they endured was normal. A briefing or information sheet may have been all that was needed to stop this medical person in their tracks.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Reporting it now and feeling secure in knowing independence is at the forefront and action will be taken is even better.

If you want to learn more about Report it Now, see www.reportitnow-global.com

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