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?