The Police Commissioner and the Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect describes when someone’s attempt to cover up or censor something only leads to it getting more attention – the exact opposite result they intended.

Someone should tell Police Commissioner Mike Bush about it.

I tend to unplug from media on the weekends. So I’d missed Bryce Edwards’ column on the Herald website last week which did a fantastic job laying out why the public trust in our police has been rightfully shaken over the past few years – including the overturned convictions of David Bain, Teina Pora and (convicted at retrial) Mark Lundy, the Roastbusters case, and the perceived lack of teeth of the IPCA.

Thankfully, the Police Commissioner decided to submit a retort, which is so terribly overwrought and indignant that it prompted BLiP at The Standard to put together one of their legendary lists – in this case, police abuses and excuses since 2008.

There’s a really disingenuous tone to Bush’s response. Outraged statements like:

Does [Edwards] really think that a 100 per cent resolution rate for murder is just a “box-ticking” way for police to “prove themselves”?

I’d say it is something the public should rightly expect.

… completely ignore the actual point Edwards was making, which is that having a goal of a 100% resolution rate can lead, and has led, to such fantastic examples of policing as planting evidence to convict Arthur Allan Thomas (by an officer whom Bush himself praised for his integrity!) and bullying a confession out of Teina Pora.

Bush accuses Edwards of “need[ing] to get out from behind his desk” and “be[ing] one of the minority who just don’t like police”.

And he makes excuses like:

Space does not allow me to respond point-by-point to his assertions, nor am I in a position to re-litigate the historic cases.

… which handily allows him to not even mention very recent cases like the Roastbusters, while somehow finding the space to laud the Police’s “40-plus Facebook pages” and the number of “incoming social media contacts” they get every week.

The beautiful irony of it all is that Mike Bush waxes lyrical about needing the trust of the community, in what must be copy-pasted from a communications strategy document:

We can only achieve the best outcomes for communities – that they be safe and feel safe – if we have the consent of the public.

This is why our overall vision is to have the trust and confidence of all.

We must earn that trust every day, and be continually focused on achieving it.

Yet the first thing he does when someone raises important points which clearly impact the way the public views the Police is throw his toys from the cot, launch personal attacks against an academic who has backed up his criticism with plenty of evidence, and give the reading public absolutely no reason to trust that he actually understands the seriousness of the issues Edwards is talking about.

Mike Bush has only proven Edwards’ point. He refuses to acknowledge the serious problems in Police culture and training. He refuses to talk about how they will actually improve. The first instinct is to defend, defend, defend, and try to say that the critics are the villains.

And by quoting an anonymous young officer whose first instinct is also to complain about how hard and thankless his job is, he only illustrates that the cultural change we keep getting promised is a long way from happening.

If Mike Bush wants to see a great example of how a man at the top of a conservative institution can really rebuild public trust and show leadership in changing a toxic culture in his ranks, I highly recommend that he watch this video a few dozen times.


Measured, authoritative, careful not to pre-judge the case, but absolutely not taking any shit and giving a strong commitment to actually change. Not mouthing PR bullet points about “trust” and “vision”.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, Police Commissioner. Apparently you’re happy to walk past the re-victimisation of sexual assault survivors, the framing of innocent men, and the inappropriate use of force against civilian populations.

And you wonder why more and more people don’t trust you.

What do you reckon?

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