Hard News by Russell Brown


Tragedy into Crisis?

I wasn't there, but I suspect a gambling god could run yesterday's dreadful events in a Manukau car park over and again and fail to produce something as heart-rending as what is described in the Herald's report.

A failed purse-snatching, a woman who wouldn't let go, a 4WD suddenly a weapon, a child left standing in a void, watching and screaming. His mother has now died. It is horrible.

Michael Laws might have declared on Sunday that "South Auckland is the badlands of New Zealand … not a place that you choose to live. It is a place that you end up," but most days Manukau City mall sees no more than the orderly consumer activity that takes place at any other mall in the country.

Three bungled, callous crimes in little over a week in a city nearly the size of Christchurch were always going to be grimly greeted as a "wave", but something else has bloomed since the first of them. The police's apparently inexplicable failure to render timely aid to Navtej Singh as he lay fatally wounded on the floor of his liquor store has moved the usual suspects -- Laws, Garth George, Jim Hopkins -- to announce the constitutional cowardice of the police.

It was left to Rosemary Mcleod in the Star Times to sing out of key:

… the real blame for Mr Singh's death lies with whoever cold-bloodedly shot him, not with the police. Focusing on what the police did is a distraction, the kind of distraction we go in for in this country, as if the police have to not only do their job, but compensate for the harm done by criminals as they go about it. We turn our attention invariably to them, holding up high expectations, while for criminals we make nothing but excuses. There will be people who by now half believe that the police and ambulance services caused Mr Singh's death, then, not the robbers at all. That's how we think here. I'm not sure why.

It may just be because a couple of years' worth of indictments of the force -- some of them starkly contradictory -- came to a head in Manurewa that night.

The three recent failed prosecutions -- one undone by a family conspiracy of silence, one by compelling medical evidence, and one undoubtedly by the stupidity of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

The over-reach of the "terror raids", the discomforting return from history of police rape allegations, the confusion of the stolen war medals, even -- if you're Jim Hopkins or Stephen Franks -- corruption implicit in the failure to find a criminal, or even a crime, in the matter of Don Brash's emails.

They have all gone into what is, if not a crisis amongst the police, then at least a crisis of confidence amongst those who comment on them.

That's what we're looking at in Media7 this week: have the police lost the PR battle? Why? Can they recover? How? Has something happened that was not triggered by the waterfront strike in the 50s, the fabrication of evidence in the Crewe murders and the brutality of the Springbok Tour?

Our panel for tonight's recording is Phil Kitchin, the man who opened the lid on the festering secrets around Louise Nicholas; Dominic Andrae, a longtime police reporter and now academic; and former policeman Graham Bell.

If you'd like to join us (with a friend, if you like) at tonight's recording at The Classic in Queen Street, hit the "Reply" button below and let me know asap. If you can't join us, I'd like to hear your thoughts. Data and experience are, as ever, particularly welcome.

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