Police – Protecting you or the status quo?

Britain has a long and disgraceful history of not only the intelligence services but also the police trying to both infiltrate and act as agent provocateurs inside peaceful protest groups. A recent Guardian newspaper article on how the police tried to recruit (not realising he was being filmed) a Cambridge student into spying on different student based groups is the latest example.

The New Zealand Police too, in their own blundering way, have been involved with numerous attempts to spy on and intimidate activists. At one level it is faintly bemusing to consider why an ostensibly professional force like the police would allow themselves to be involved with the facile paranoia that is normally associated with the SIS and GCSB. But these police units are seperate from the everyday force. The Threats Assessment Unit (TAU) and Special Investigations Unit (SIG) are part of a bewildering array of military, intelligence and police groups set up to monitor external and internal “threats”. Apparently these include peace, animal rights, environmental, welfare and Maori sovereignty groups as well as unions and I imagine anti mining and oil drilling protesters. Their modus operandi is occasionally exposed as it was in 2009 by the outing of police infiltrator Rob Gilchrist.

It is not evident whether this interest is because they think there is a genuine threat of violence (despite there being almost nothing to support this premise) or just because they need something to do to justify their existence (and salaries) in the absence of real threats.

Another more sinister but plausible reason, given the history of the New Zealand Police being used to act as the strong arm of the government against Maori and unions in particular, is that both Labour and National governments want to protect the status quo by discouraging and if necessary quashing dissent. Combine this with the recent intelligence law changes and the obvious predilection for the SIS and GCSB to push the boundaries on electronic surveillance, and the chilling affect on lawful democratic protest is obvious.

The Kim Dot Com raid also suggests a certain overawed obsequiousness towards larger foreign police and intelligence organisations; wanting to play with the “big boys”.

Police organisations, like the military, are conservative by nature and prone to regard protest or dissent with suspicion. In a democracy however they should always act with extreme restraint when asked to be the enforcers of the status quo by their political masters. The New Zealand Police never recovered from the loss of respect they brought upon themselves with their violent response to the 1981 Springbok Tour or the Bastion Point protest.

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