Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Kia kaha

This term, my daughter and her class have begun the Kia Kaha programme, an anti-bullying initiative run by the New Zealand Police. The programme involves officers visiting schools, teaching kids to think about the impacts of their words and actions on others.*

I heartily approve of any initiative that discourages bullying and promotes empathy and kindness. But I do have some misgivings about the fact that this programme is taught by the Police.

The behaviour of individual Police officers - Richards, Shipton and Schollum are but three examples - is one concern I have; but it's not my chief concern. My unease comes from the way the Police have recently been promoting themselves to potential recruits. There's the ad where a female Police officer is briefing fellow officers about to search for a missing child ... until she snaps out of her daydream, and we realise she's just a primary school teacher wishing she had a 'real' job. There was another ad which featured a male Police officer chasing a fleeing offender in the dark, tackling him on railway tracks - viewers were invited to text for more details on how to join up.

These 'Get better work stories' ads have promoted the Police as a career for those who want an adventure. Although Police recruitment and promotional materials are increasingly featuring female faces, the tone of their advertising remains blokey. By implication, other work - like primary teaching - is a bit dull, or maybe even for sissies. However, the so-called soft skills are essential to Police work. The ability to deal sensitively with a distraught victim, help an elderly person secure their home or deal courteously with inquiries from the public, is essential to the role the Police play in our society. It seems to me that the Police downplay the importance of these skills at their peril.

Both times my daughter has done the Kia Kaha programme, it's been taught by a female Police officer. I've got a suspicion that this is no coincidence - I'd guess that women officers are thought more suitable to do soft skills work than men, and that community policing like this is regarded as peripheral to 'real' Police work. I think that the Kia Kaha programme is laudable, but I feel that if the Police really want it to be effective, they have to show they're walking the talk. They, too, need to show they value the skills of communication, empathy and caring that the programme teaches: and that includes the blokes, not just the female officers.

* Paul Henry might consider enrolling?


Cat said...

I imagine that the kind of people who might join the police as the result of a tv ad wouldn't respond to an ad showing someone helping an old lady across the road... I'm sure they're targeted at a very specific demographic.

If they're going to recruit the extra staff they need, they need to market to those who are going to want the job. Someone who wants to be a teacher doesn't necessarily doesn't want to be a police officer.

That said, I'm sure there are other people who become police officers for reasons other than 'good work stories' - and not every police officer wants to be walking the beat.

I think it's important to accept that not everyone responds to the same things.

Anna said...

It's not so much the portrayal of blokey activities that bothers me, as the implication that the non-blokey stuff isn't 'real' work (which is the strong implication of the teacher ad). Every cop has to have some people skills, whether or not they're into the rough and tough side of the job - after all, these are the people who are first on the scene when domestic violence occurs, have to deal with sexual assault victims, give evidence proficiently in court, etc.

As I understand it, the problem with Police numbers is with retention rather than numbers recruited. It might be that if the Police advertise only the 'adventure' side of the job, they might get people who don't have the maturity to do all the other stuff - and these people don't stick around (which may be no bad thing).

Anonymous said...

The older cops I've known have all emphasised the "soft" skills, especially in "hard" situations. Blue Meanie was quite emphatic that the best skills are the ones that let him wander into a gang fight that hasn't quite happened yet and help those concerned find the party that they hadn't realised they were organising. "hard" situation... "soft" skills.

Of course, the other 90% of a police officer's job is helping little old ladies, answering the phone, handling lost property, finding out where my firearms license renewals have been going and so on. But that's not very exciting.

I'd love to see much more community policing and crime prevention in general. Does it amuse anyone else that the teacher is probably much more effective at that than the cops are?


MacDoctor said...

I suspect a more realistic advert would be "join the police and do lots of exciting paperwork all day!"

Imagine the torrents of eager applicants.

Anna said...

Point taken, MacDoctor, but is it smart to recruit new cops on the basis of 10% of the job - particularly when your advertising suggests that the skills which are vital to the other 90% of the job are actually a bit sissie? That sounds like a recipe for recruiting people who just aren't that suited to (or interested in) a good chunk of the work.

Moz, I think you're right - older cops do seem to have a better sense of the soft skills side. That's why it's important to retain cops, rather than recruiting young ones who turn over quickly, in order to keep numbers up.