Former cop claims sexual harassment, groping by officers

Author
Katie Harris, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 4 Jul 2021, 1:07PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Former cop claims sexual harassment, groping by officers

Author
Katie Harris, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 4 Jul 2021, 1:07PM

A former Wellington police officer's life became "hell" after a sergeant sexually harassed her while she was at training college.

When she made it onto the force, things didn't get better, and she claimed she was groped by a more senior officer and bullied.

Laura, who did not want her real name used, had always wanted to be a cop so when she finally got into Police College it felt like a dream come true, but within weeks it came crashing down.

She claimed that the head of her training wing told her she would have to "sleep her way" to passing Police College, which she said was him propositioning her.

"It was like a teacher and a student and so I just felt disgusting. Like, obviously you have no respect for me."

She told the Herald on Sunday she tried to confront him in person but broke down crying when he denied making the comment.

Laura emailed her concerns to the man, to which she said he responded by saying he was sorry she felt that way and that he'd forwarded it to his boss for her to handle.

"I expected her [his boss] to be like, okay, cool. Tell me what happened, you know, how can we support you? like really sorry that happened."

But she said the woman told her she "knew him" and he would "never" say anything like that.

"I couldn't believe that. I was like, I feel like I've been made to sound crazy.

"I didn't feel supported at all, I actually felt more targeted and unsupported. I got called a liar."

After this Laura says she was known as the "public hazard" by her co-recruits and was kept under a tight microscope, despite having good grades.

"It was like 'your top button is not done up, you know, this is not good enough, you're not living by the values.' "

By this point the young recruit was living under a cloud of fear, constantly anxious over what she'd be told off for next.

While others she trained with graduated, she claims she was held back and made to do extra offsite work before she could become a fully-fledged officer.

They told her this on the day of her final test, and after notifying her she wouldn't be graduating this round, she said they wouldn't even let her say goodbye to the friends she'd made.

"They were like, we need you to go straight away, because apparently I wasn't allowed to see the wing."

In a statement, a police spokesperson said they had no record of the woman raising a sexual harassment during her time at the Royal New Zealand Police College.

"Our records show there were interactions with her supervisors and senior managers during her time at Police College to discuss her development and performance. According to our records, none of these could be interpreted as complaints of harassment of any kind, sexual or otherwise."

In the three months after college she worked in the custody unit as well as the Investigation Support Unit, which largely involved paperwork.

It was hard seeing her classmates bring in arrests and already being out in the field, but three months later she finally graduated and joined them.

Police said it was not uncommon for recruits to upskill and complete aspects of their training while in the district, which is what she did.

Data released to the Herald on Sunday under the Official Information Act shows last year there were allegations about officers' workplace behaviour and 42 reports of external official conduct.

New Zealand Police Conduct Association president Shannon Parker said there was an entrenched culture of police protecting their own.

"Examples like this indicate that it doesn't matter if the complaint is internal or external, they don't want to know about it."

Parker said a failure to fully investigate complaints appears to be an ongoing theme for police.

While working out of the Lower Hutt station, Laura said she was bullied "most of the time", often by people referring to what had happened at Police College.

"It was really hard, because I thought I'd be able to make good girlfriends, life friends. But I just never felt like I belonged, like at all."

Laura tried to keep going despite the ongoing comments, but said her world was shaken again when a more senior officer grabbed her bottom as she walked past.

"I got a hell of a fright, and I was like, what the hell are you doing? He was like, oh, just having a joke."

She said she was too scared to report what happened.

"I didn't want the same thing to happen. To be called a liar and for him to deny that he did what he did."

Over her years with the police, the bullying and misconduct had a "huge impact" on her mental health, and she developed an eating disorder.

"I never felt safe. Basically, if you speak out, you come out worse."

A year ago Laura took leave without pay to focus on her health.

"You think it being a government organisation, they should be looking out for each other, I got basically no support at all."

Police said all reports of sexual harassment were taken very seriously and urged anyone who believed they had been a victim to contact police.

"If the individual has any information about any inappropriate behaviour of our staff during her time with New Zealand Police we would urge her to contact us."

A spokesperson said her training record reflected significant efforts to support her development and wellbeing.

"We believe concerns, wellbeing and performance during her training were handled appropriately and carefully documented.

The woman said she had lost trust in a lot of people, and looking back now she wouldn't have "stuck it out" if she knew what she does now.

"It wasn't worth the tears."