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It hasn’t taken the new Police Minister long to start firing instructions to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster.
Mark Mitchell has sent through what is officially known as a Letter of Expectations. This is what all ministers send to the government departments they’re responsible for to make sure the people who work for them know what is wanted.
And, in no uncertain terms, Mark Mitchell has told Andrew Coster that he wants to see the cops in this country focus on what he calls the basics.
It seems, as far as the Minister’s concerned anyway, that getting back to basics doesn’t include Andrew Coster’s “policing by consent” approach, which we heard about a lot during the protests at Parliament last year. It looks like that’s being shown the door.
Or, more specifically, the minister would like to see it shown the door. Because, technically, the Police Minister can’t tell the Police Commissioner what to do. The commissioner has a level of independence.
But when you’re the commissioner and you’ve got the minister saying he wants you to get back to the basics of policing, you know he wants things to be done differently. And policing by consent which, in a nutshell, is about the police working in a way that encourages people to co-operate with them —instead of waving the big stick all the time— that’s not really the basics, is it?
So it’s very clear that Mark Mitchell doesn’t want the police being good guys to the bad guys anymore. And he certainly doesn’t want the commissioner being Cuddles Coster anymore.
Some people seem to be surprised that Mark Mitchell hasn’t got rid of the current commissioner. But the Minister said this morning he has full confidence in the Commissioner.
Besides which, under the Policing Act, the Minister can’t sack the Commissioner. Police commissioners are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
But back to Mark Mitchell's expectations of the Police Commissioner.
He says he wants the cops to make sure gangs don’t take over towns, public roads or public spaces anymore. He wants a strong focus on youth crime to stop kids getting away with running amok around the place.
Another thing - and this is the key bit for me - is he wants us to see Andrew Coster’s officers out and about more. Here’s a quote from the letter spelling out his expectations: “I expect police to be focused on core policing in and around communities, which includes being highly visible in communities and providing that community assurance.
“As part of our commitment to improving public safety, I want Police to continue building strong relationships within communities, including with retailers, shop owners and the security industry to improve safety and support.”
And that, for me, is what back-to-basics policing is all about.
I know it sounds old school and I know the world is much more complicated these days than it used to be. Which means policing these days is much more complicated than it used to be.
But cops on the beat in the centre of town; patrol cars doing the rounds in neighbourhoods; police having a quiet word with kids getting themselves involved in monkey business before they really go astray. That’s my idea of what back-to-basics policing is all about.
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