Law enforcement in New Zealand

New Zealand Police
Ngā Pirihimana o Aotearoa (Māori)
Logo of the New Zealand Police.
Motto Safer Communities Together
Agency overview
Formed 1842
Preceding agencies
  • 1842 - 1886 known as the New Zealand Armed Constabulary or Armed Constabulary Force
  • 1886 - 1958 known as the New Zealand Police Force
Employees 11,413 (30 June 2008)
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agency New Zealand
Governing body New Zealand Government
Constituting instruments
General nature
  • Law enforcement
  • Local civilian police
Operational structure
Headquarters Wellington, New Zealand
Sworn members 8,453 (30 June 2008)
Unsworn members 2,960 (30 June 2008)
Minister responsible Anne Tolley, Minister of Police
Agency executive Peter Marshall, Commissioner of Police
Stations 400+

The New Zealand Police (Māori: Ngā Pirihimana o Aotearoa, lit. The Policemen of New Zealand) is the national police force of New Zealand, responsible for enforcing criminal law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace throughout New Zealand. With over 11,000 staff it is the largest law enforcement agency in New Zealand, and with few exceptions has primary jurisdiction over the majority of New Zealand criminal law. The New Zealand police also has responsibility for traffic and commercial vehicle enforcement as well as other key responsibilities including dignitary protection, firearms licensing and matters of national security.

The current Minister of Police is Anne Tolley. While the New Zealand Police is a government department with a minister responsible for it, the Commissioner and sworn members swear allegiance directly to the Sovereign and, by constitutional convention, have constabulary independence from the government of the day.

Origins and history

Policing in New Zealand started in 1840 with the arrival of six constables accompanying Lt. Governor Hobson's official landing party to form the colony of New Zealand. Early policing arrangements were along similar lines to the UK and British colonial police forces, in particular the Royal Irish Constabulary and the New South Wales Police Force. Many of its first officers had seen prior service in either Ireland or Australia. The early Force was initially part police and part militia.

At the outset, official establishment of sworn constables holding common law powers to arrest people was achieved by magistrates being given the power to swear them in via the Magistrates Ordinance of 1842. By 1846 the emerging organisation of a police force was recognised with the passage of the Armed Constabulary Ordinance. New Zealand's early police force continued to grow with the colony, and was further enhanced with additional structure and rules with the passage of the first Police Act, the New Zealand Armed Constabulary Act of 1867. The Armed Constabulary took part in land wars against Māori opposed to colonial expansion at that time.

From the police force's beginnings in 1840 through the next forty years, policing arrangements varied around New Zealand. Whilst the nationally organised Armed Constabulary split its efforts between regular law enforcement functions and militia support to the land wars, some provinces desired local police forces of their own. This led to a separate Provincial Police Force Act being passed by the Parliament. However, provincial policing models lasted only two decades as economic depression in the 1870s saw some provinces stop paying their police as they ran out of money. Eventually, government decided a single nationally organised police would be the best and most efficient policing arrangement.

The New Zealand Police Force was established as a single national force under the Police Force Act of 1886. The change in name was significant, and provincial policing arrangements were dis-established and their staff largely absorbed into the newly created New Zealand Police Force. At the same time, government took the important step to hive off the militia functions of the old Armed Constabulary, and form the genesis of today's New Zealand Defence Force, initially called in 1886 the New Zealand Permanent Militia.

Just a decade later, policing in New Zealand was given a significant overhaul. In 1898 there was a very constructive Royal Commission of Enquiry into New Zealand Police. The Royal Commission, which included the reforming Commissioner Tunbridge who had come from the Metropolitan Police in London, produced a far reaching report which laid the basis for positive reform of New Zealand Police for the next several decades. A complete review of Police's legislation in 1908 built significantly off the Royal Commission's work.

A further Police Force Act in 1947 reflected some changes of a growing New Zealand, and a country coming out of World War II. But the most significant change in the structure and arrangement for Police was to arrive after the departure of Commissioner Compton under a cloud of government and public concern over his management of Police in 1955. The appointment of a caretaker civilian leader of Police, especially titled "Controller General" to recognise his non-operational background, opened the windows on the organisation and allowed a period of positive and constructive development to take place.

In 1958, the word "Force" was removed from the name when legislation was significantly revised.

On 1 July 1992, the Traffic Safety Service of the Ministry of Transport was merged with the Police. Up until that time, the Ministry of Transport and local councils had been responsible for traffic law enforcement. In 2001, the Police re-established a specialist road policing branch known as the Highway Patrol. Today the Police are responsible for enforcing traffic law, while local councils enforce parking regulations.[1] In 2010, after some calls to split traffic enforcement again from standard police duties, it was decided that it would remain part of their duties, partly due to the public having shown "enormous support" for it remaining this way.[2]

The Police Act 1958 was extensively reviewed starting in 2006, after a two and a half year consultative process the Policing Act 2008 came into effect on 1 October 2008.[3][4] The process included the world's first use of a wiki to allow the public to submit/propose amendments. The wiki was open for less than two weeks, but drew international attention.[5]

More recently, the New Zealand Police has been involved in international policing and peacekeeping missions to East Timor and the Solomon Islands, to assist these countries with establishing law and order after civil unrest. They have also been involved in Community Police training in Bougainville, in conjunction with Australian Federal Police. Other overseas deployments for regional assistance and relief have been to Afghanistan as part of the reconstruction effort, the Kingdom of Tonga, Thailand for the tsunami disaster and Indonesia after terrorist bombings. New Zealand Police maintains an international policing support network in eight foreign capitals, and has about 80 staff deployed in differing international missions.[6]


Although headed by a Commissioner, the New Zealand Police is a decentralised organisation divided into twelve districts. Each district has a central station from which subsidiary and suburban stations are managed. Each District has a geographical area of responsibility, three communications centres that each receive calls from *555 traffic, 111 emergency or general queues, and a Police National Headquarters that provides policy and planning advice as well as national oversight and management of the organisation. There are over 400 community-based police stations around the country with more than 11,000 staff who respond to more than 600,000 emergency 111 calls each year.[7]

The Commissioner is in overall charge of the New Zealand Police. Assisting the Commissioner are two chief officers in the rank of Deputy Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner-Resource Management and Deputy Commissioner-Operations.

Five chief officers in the rank of Assistant Commissioner and the Director of Intelligence report to the Deputy Commissioner-Operations. The Assistant Commissioner-Investigations/International is responsible for the National Criminal Investigations Group, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (OFCANZ), Financial Crime Group, International Services Group and Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police Secretariat. The Investigations and International Group leads the prevention, investigation, disruption and prosecution of serious and transnational crime. It also leads liaison, overseas deployment and capacity building with international policing partners. The Assistant Commissioner-Operations is responsible for Community Policing, Youth, Communications Centres, Operations Group, Prosecutions and Road Policing. The remaining three Assistant Commissioners command geographical policing areas-Upper North, Lower North and South. Each area is divided into three to five districts.

District Commanders hold the rank of Superintendent, as do sworn National Managers, the road policing manager in the Waitemata District, responsible for the motorway network and traffic alcohol group, and the commandant of the Royal New Zealand Police College. Area Commanders hold the rank of Inspector as do Shift Commanders based in each of the three Communications Centres. District Section Commanders are typically Senior Sergeants. The New Zealand Police is a member of Interpol and has close relationships with the Australian police forces, at both the state and federal level. Several New Zealand Police representatives are posted overseas in key New Zealand diplomatic missions.

The Police also work closely with the Serious Fraud Office.

Communications centres

New Zealand Police operate three communications centres that are responsible for receiving 111 emergency calls and general calls for service. The centres are:

  • Northern Communications Centre, based in Auckland and responsible for the northern half of the North Island, down to Hicks Bay, Desert Rd south of Turangi, and Awakino
  • Central Communications Centre, based in Wellington and responsible for the southern half of the North Island, from Mokau, Taumarunui, Desert Rd north of Waiouru, and Te Araroa in the north
  • Southern Communications Centre, based in Christchurch, responsible for the South Island[8]


While sworn officers make up the majority of the workforce, non-sworn staff and volunteers provide a wide range of support services where a sworn officer's statutory powers are not required. Rank insignia is worn on the epaulettes. Officers of Inspector rank and higher are commissioned by the Governor General, but are still promotions from the ranks of non-commissioned officers. A recently graduated Constable is considered a Probationary Constable for up to two years, until he or she has passed ten workplace assessment standards. The completion of the above is known as obtaining permanent appointment.

Detective ranks somewhat parallel the street ranks up to Detective Superintendent. Trainee Detectives spend around 6–12 months time as a Constable on Trial after completing an intensive Selection and Induction course, before progression to Detective Constable after successful completion of several training modules. There is then a Workplace assessment for Detective Constables, and after approximately 2–3 years in the Criminal Investigation Branch, a Detective Constable may take the pre-requisite examination and qualifying course to become a Detective.

Rank Insignia description Military equivalent[9] Percentage
of officers[9]
Commissioner silver crossed sword and baton below a crown Lieutenant General 5%
Deputy Commissioner silver crossed sword and baton below one star ("pip") Major General
Assistant Commissioner three silver pips in a triangle below a crown Brigadier
Superintendent one silver pip below a crown Lieutenant Colonel
Inspector three silver pips Captain
Senior Sergeant white crown between two ferns above police number Warrant Officer 5%
Sergeant three white point-up chevrons above police number Sergeant 15%
Senior Constable one white point-up chevron above police number 75%
Constable police number Private
Recruit word "RECRUIT" below police number

The rank of Senior Constable is granted to Constables after 14 years of service and the Commissioner of Police is satisfied with their conduct. Senior Constables are well regarded within the New Zealand Police for their extensive policing experience, and are often used to train and mentor other police officers.

Detective and Detective Constable are considered designations and not specific ranks. That is, Detectives do not outrank uniformed constables. Although, a police officer with a Detective designation will generally assume control of a serious crime scene rather than a uniform staff member regardless of rank.

New Zealand police uniforms formerly followed the British model closely but since the 1970s a number of changes have been implemented. These include the adoption of a medium blue shade in place of dark blue, the abolition of custodian helmets and the substitution of synthetic leather jackets for silver buttoned tunics when on ordinary duty. AOS and STG members, when deployed, wear the usual charcoal-coloured clothing used by armed-response and counter-terror units around the world. In 2008, a survey found strong staff support for the re-introduction of custodian helmets to reinforce the police's professional image.[10]



New Zealand Police officers do not normally carry firearms while on standard patrol, but routinely carry pepper spray and batons. However, all police officers in New Zealand are given basic firearms training. Tasers fitted with cameras were introduced following a decision by Commissioner Broad in August 2008 as an additional non-lethal weapon.[11] By 2012 there were 908 Tasers available to police nationwide. Figures show that a 'disproportionate number of people' targeted by police Tasers were mental health patients.[12]

Non-commissioned officers and specialist officers such as dog handlers and crime squad detectives often have a secure container within their police vehicle containing firearms; usually Glock 17 pistols as well as Bushmaster M4A3 XM15 carbines. [13][14] Weapons may be issued to front line staff in an armed response to a serious incident under the supervision of a senior officer. An armed response by police to an incident will often be considered a newsworthy event by the media.

Following an attack on a Kawhia police officer by a group of men in January, 2013,[15] the Police Association called for police officers to be armed. Police Commissoner Peter Marshall rejected the plea, saying it was "not a time for political point-scoring exercises".[16]


The New Zealand Police trialled tasers for a twelve-month period in Auckland City, Counties Manukau, Waitemata and Wellington starting in September 2006.[17] Some opposition to the trial has been expressed by various people, including Māori Party police spokesperson Hone Harawira, Green party police spokesperson, Keith Locke,[18] and several high profile individuals including Barrister, Marie Dyhrberg and Sir Paul Reeves who have formed a lobby group opposing their use.[19] In the United States, dozens of people have died after being hit with Tasers—although the gun issued to American police is more powerful than the gun being trialled in New Zealand.[20]

The first person to be tasered in New Zealand was an 18 year old after an alcohol fuelled incident in the Auckland suburb of Western Springs on 8 September 2006. He was holding a weed-eater and was hit with 50,000-volts when police fired the taser after he refused to put it down.[21] The Police Association called the trial an "outstanding success" and called for the continued used of the stun guns.[22] The following year, the use of tasers was made permanent in those districts where it was trialled. In 2010 it was announced that four hundred more front-line police officers would be trained to use tasers and their use had been extended to the Central police district covering much of Taranaki.[23]


In 2012, the police began using drones also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. By 2013, drones had been used only twice; in one case a drone was used in a criminal investigation and led to charges being laid in court. Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said "organisations using drones needed good privacy policies - or possibly a warrant".[24]


The Holden Commodore is the current generic vehicle of choice for the Police - in the past they have used Ford Falcons and the Nissan Maxima. The highway patrol mainly uses the Holden Commodore S variant. Also the police currently use unmarked models of the Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy, Holden Commodore and Hyundai Sonata. Also, Holden Rodeo utility vehicles and Holden Captivas are used in rural areas. Liveries are checkered Battenburg markings orange-blue (general duties) or yellow-blue (highway patrol), as well as cars in standard factory colours. Since 2008 the orange-blue livery is being phased out, and all marked patrol vehicles are expected to have the yellow-blue livery as well as LED light bars by 2014.[25] Both Commodore sedan and wagon bodies are used - normally in V6 form and optionally with an LPG tank fitted.

Dog handlers have fully enclosed utility or station wagon vehicles, which may be liveried or unmarked, with cages in the rear and remotely operated canopy doors to allow the handler to release their dog if away from the vehicle.

The police operate one dedicated air unit - the Eagle helicopter in Auckland (an Aérospatiale AS355),[26] and two maritime units - the launch Deodar III and four smaller vessels in Auckland, and the launch Lady Elizabeth IV in Wellington.[27]

The police and Ministry of Transport (see history above have used a wide range of different cars and motorbikes over the years.[28]



  • BSA 650 Police Special 1969-1971
  • Triumph Trophy 650 1970s
  • Norton Commando 750 1970s
  • Various Japanese and European Motorcycles including Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW 1979-current.

Notable policing events

The police investigation into the murders of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe in 1970 was a turning point in the public's perception of the police. A royal commission subsequently found that that the police planted evidence and framed Arthur Allan Thomas for the murder. Writer Kieth Hunter believes this introduced "a cynicism (in attitudes towards the police) that infects us today"[29]

During the 1981 Springbok tour, the Police formed two riot squads known as Red Squad and Blue Squad to control anti-apartheid protesters who laid siege to rugby union fields where the touring team was playing.[30] Police were described as being heavy-handed with their batons as they tried to 'subdue' protesters opposed to the Springbok tour.[31] The tour had a significant effect on public perceptions of the police who since this time, "have never been viewed with the same general benign approval".[32]

In July 1985, the New Zealand Police arrested two French Action Service operatives after the Rainbow Warrior was bombed and sunk in Auckland harbour. The rapid arrest was attributed to the high level of public support for the investigation.[33]

In October 2007 at least 17 people were arrested in a series of raids under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Arms Act 1983. The raids targeted a range of political activists allegedly involved in illegal firearms activity.[34] The case dragged on for nearly four years and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Much of the surveillance evidence was found to be gained illegally and charges against all but four defendants were dropped.[35] The remaining four were charged with firearms offences, found guilty and sentenced to terms of imprisonment and home detention.[36]

On 20 January 2012, the police flew in by helicopter and arrested Kim Dotcom and three others in Coatesville, Auckland, in an armed raid on Dotcom's house following United States indictments against him for online piracy via his internet file sharing company, Megaupload. Assets worth $17 million were seized including eighteen luxury cars, giant screen TVs and works of art. According to Dotcom, about 80 police officers were involved in the operation;[37] the New Zealand police claimed it was between 20 and 30.[38] The incident became controversial when a district court judge ruled that that the warrants issued for the property seizures were invalid and it turned out the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had broken the law when asked by police to spy on Dotcom.

Police and civilian deaths

Police killed on duty

A member of the New Zealand Police, Sergeant Stewart Graeme Guthrie, was the last civilian recipient of the George Cross, which is awarded for conspicuous gallantry. He fired a warning shot near a gunman at Aramoana on 13 November 1990, but was killed by a return shot from the gunman, who also killed twelve others.[39] As of May 2009, 29 police officers have been killed by criminal acts, and about 17 by accident, while in the performance of their official duties.[40][41][42] The last policeman to die was Senior Constable Len Snee, who was shot and killed by Jan Molenaar in the 2009 Napier shootings.[43]

Civilian deaths involving police

In June 2012 the The police were exonerated in all seven cases.

Numerous people have also died in the course of police car chases. During the five years starting in December 2003, 24 people died and 91 received serious injuries in police pursuits.[46] Over this period, the IPCA made numerous recommendations to change police protocols, but the death rate continued to climb. In 2010, 18 drivers fleeing police were killed.[47] Fourteen of the deaths were triggered by pursuits over minor offences rather than serious crimes.[48] That year police conducted the fourth review of pursuit policy in six years and ignored key recommendations of the Independent Police Conduct Authority making only minor changes to the policy.[49] Over the next 12 months, 15 drivers died in the course of police pursuits.[50] 14% of pursuits result in a crash either by the police or the offender but police guidelines do not provide a predetermined speed at which officers should pull out of a pursuit. The IPCA has now recommended that pursuit policy would should require officers to "state a reason for beginning a pursuit," and recommended compulsory alcohol and drug testing of police officers involved in fatal incidents.[51]

Counter-terrorism and military assistance

The NZ Police are accountable for the operational response to threats to national security, including terrorism. If an incident escalates to a level where their internal resources are unable to adequately deal with the issue (for example, a major arms encounter or a significant terrorist threat), the Police Incident Controller may call on extra assistance from the New Zealand Defence Force and in particular NZ's Special Forces, the military focused Special Air Service and terrorism focused CTTAG (Counter Terrorist Tactical Assault Group). Control of the incident remains with police throughout. As of 2009, the two military counter terrorist units have never been deployed in a domestic law-enforcement operation. Military resources such as Light Armoured Vehicles have been used and requested before, such as during the 2009 Napier shootings, and Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft are often used to assist in search and rescue and cannabis eradication operations.

In 1964, the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) was created to provide a specialist armed response unit, similar to the Metropolitan Police Service's SC&O19 in the United Kingdom. In addition to the AOS, the New Zealand Police maintain a full-time counter-terrorist unit, the Special Tactics Group (STG). Similar to the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, the STG train in dynamic entry and other tactics vital in high-risk situations. The STG train with the SAS and are the last line of law enforcement response available before a police Incident Controller calls in support from the Military.

Crime statistics

Main article: Crime in New Zealand

Crime statistics are documented in the Statistics New Zealand. These statistics provide offence statistics related to individual sections of legislation and appear to be the most detailed national crime statistics available today.


There have been a number of recent controversies that have put the Police under close scrutiny. Some have been investigated by the Independent Police Conduct Authority; others have received significant publicity.


Main article: INCIS

The Integrated National Crime Information System (INCIS) was a computer software package developed by IBM in the early 1990s to provide improved information, investigation and analysis capabilities to the Police. Deputy Police Commissioner, Barry Matthews, was responsible for its implementation and acknowledged that police requested 'hundreds and hundreds of changes' to the system as the programme was being developed.[52] It never worked as required and ended up costing $130 million before it was finally abandoned in 2000.

The wasted resources and on-going problems surrounding the failure of the project were a huge distraction for the police. When it was about to be scrapped, Police Association president Greg O'Connor said "The reality of it is that the sooner ... the huge distraction that is Incis is gone, the better."[53] Funding wasted on INCIS subsequently led to budget cuts in other areas so that infrastructure such as cars and communications centres were poorly resourced.[54]

Communications centres

In 2004 and 2005, the police were criticised over several incidents in which callers to the Police Communications Centres, particularly those using the 111 emergency telephone number, received inadequate responses. In October 2004, the Commissioner of Police ordered an Independent Review into the Communications Centres under sustained political scrutiny after the Iraena Asher incident received a lot of publicity and a whistle-blowing employee resigned. On 11 May 2005, the Review Panel released its report which criticised the service for systemic failures and inadequate management. The report expressed ongoing concerns for public safety.[55]

Police acted on the recommendations of the review with a number of initiatives, including increasing communications centre staff numbers[56] and then initiating a demonstration project for a future "Single Non-Emergency Number" (SNEN)[57][58][59] centre, to reduce the load on the 111 service.

Historic sexual misconduct by police

In 2004, a number of historic sexual misconduct allegations dating from the 1980s were made against both serving and former police officers. In March 2006 assistant police commissioner Clinton Rickards and former police officers Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum were charged with raping and sexually abusing Louise Nicholas in Rotorua during the 1980s. The defendants claimed all sex was consensual and were found not guilty on 31 March 2006.[60][61] In February 2007 the same three men faced historic charges of kidnapping and indecent assault for the pack rape of a 16-year-old girl with a whisky bottle that took place in the early 1980s, and again they were acquitted.[62] Throughout both trials, the jury were unaware that Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum had been convicted of a previous pack rape in 2005 and were already serving prison sentences for this crime.[63]

Rickards was forced to resign from the police but was paid $300,000 as part of his termination package.[64] Complaints about inappropriate sexual behaviour by police officers led to a three-year inquiry conducted by Dame Margaret Bazley. Her highly critical report was released in 2007 (see under Police Culture above).

Poor prosecution of sexual abuse cases

In 2008 there was a public scandal regarding the failure of police to investigate a backlog of sexual abuse cases in the Wairarapa. A police investigation, dubbed Operation Hope, reviewed 550 files in Wairarapa and 7000 child-abuse files nationwide going back more than 25 years. The investigation found that the police had failed hundreds of children reported as sexually abused by family members "through delays, poor investigations and improper filing".

Detective Senior Sergeant Mark McHattie, and 17 other police officers were investigated. Mr McHattie, then head of the Masterton CIB, claimed that 142 files had been reduced to just 29 in three months. However, the Independent Police Conduct Authority later found 33 had been "filed incorrectly" or "inappropriately resolved". Mr Hattie received an unspecified disciplinary "outcome" and has since been promoted as head of the Auckland CIB's serious crime unit.[65]

Detention of youth in police cells

In January 2012, two teenage girls, aged 14 and 16, were detained by Upper Hutt police after police received a complaint about an attack on two other teenage girls. Police strip-searched the two girls who were held in police cells for 36 hours. They were not given toilet paper; they were denied contact with their families or a lawyer and the 16-year-old was forced to express breast milk into the sink in her cell after being separated from her baby. In July, Judge Mary O'Dwyer condemned the arrest and police handling of the case, citing several breaches of protocol. Police called the actions of some staff an aberration and said an investigation was under way.[66]

The Independent Police Conduct Authority launched a wider investigation into the treatment of young people in police cells and in October 2012 issued a report which found that the number of young people being held has more than doubled since 2009.[67] It said that "youths in crisis are being locked up in police cells and denied their human rights." Practices that "are, or risk being, inconsistent with accepted human rights" include: being held in solitary confinement; having cell lights on 24 hours a day; family members being prevented access; and not being allowed to see the doctor when they have medical or mental health problems.[68] The IPCA made 24 recommendations into how police can improve the detention and treatment of young people in custody.[69]

See also


External links

  • New Zealand Police
  • New Zealand Police - statistics

Template:Use New Zealand English

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.