Police recruit standards plummet
By EMILY WATT - The Dominion Post | Saturday, 23 June 2007
Public safety is at risk as the standard of police recruits plummets, a damning secret internal report reveals.
Police chiefs have been accused of "turning a blind eye" to the consequences of accepting sub-standard rookie officers - including one recruit who had to be taught how to write the alphabet.
Many criminals and members of the public would be able to outsmart some officers, the report warns.
"Some of our staff are in a very vulnerable position and some of the public are probably being placed at risk or offered very poor service.
"The police, in turn, are at risk of claims of negligent hiring because we know these things."
The report reveals that Royal New Zealand Police College trainers are increasingly having to warn managers that "poor performers" have graduated and been posted to their area.
The revelation confirms fears among frontline police that the standard of recruits has been compromised to meet the Government's promised 1000 more officers by 2009.
Police national headquarters had publicly lauded the number and quality of new recruits - but the information used was "inaccurate, misleading and poorly interpreted", warns the report, which was prepared late last year.
Police risked "significant embarrassment" if the actual details were made public.
Police national headquarters did not want the public to see these findings, which The Dominion Post obtained under the Official Information Act after the Office of the Ombudsmen ordered its release.
It was written by Senior Sergeant Iain Saunders, a senior trainer at the police college.
Mr Saunders, a trained psychologist, was asked to assess recruits' standards and performance.
The findings - sent to top police managers - condemn the growing number of sub-standard applicants accepted as recruits, including some who had initially failed the entrance test.
Some took three attempts to pass.
While most recruits were an asset, there was an "obvious determination to accept a marginally able member".
Allowing low-intelligence recruits to graduate as officers had flow-on consequences for police - including decisions they would make in incidents such as high-speed vehicle pursuits, and when to use force, such as a 50,000 volt Taser.
"Current recruitment policy and practice places the future of the organisation at some risk," the report warns.
Mr Saunders compared recruits' performance at the police college before and after a new intelligence test for applicants was introduced in 2005.
Since that date more recruits had required remedial tutoring to pass their police training.
"In recent time we had a recruit being taught by a consultant, literally, how to write letters of the alphabet by drawing within bubble letters in the same style as a five-year-old."
Asked to comment on the report, Mr Saunders said it was designed to contribute to the debate over the quality of recruits.
He was now assessing the recruits' performance on the frontline.
Police Minister Annette King said it was not her job to screen recruits.
She accepted management's assurances that police college graduates were up to scratch.
Deputy Police Commissioner Lyn Provost said recruits had to complete their training and pass exams before they graduate: "I can assure you that nobody's going out of the college that we don't have confidence that they can make the right judgment when they go out on the streets."
Police Association president Greg O'Connor said: "I deal with the recruits. New Zealand can be proud of the standard of the vast majority of them."