National Party MP Simon Bridges lashes out at 'wokester' police commissioner Andy Coster
National Party MP Simon Bridges has taken aim at “wokester” police Commissioner Andy Coster, claiming he is more concerned with being nice than “actually catching criminals”.
Bridges, the party’s justice spokesman, on Tuesday told reporters the commissioner had put being “nice” above “the law of the land and actually catching criminals”. He first labelled the commissioner a “wokester” on Twitter last week.
“What you see is, right from the top, an agency or police force that's much less about arrest, much less about catching gangs and criminals despite huge problems in our society at the moment, and much more about being hip and doing things to impress a bunch of other wokesters,” he said.
A National Party spokesman says the stance is not the official party view, and the Government has hit back at Bridges’ claims.
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the comments were an unwarranted, “very strange departure" from treating police as independent of government.
“I don't know what the commissioner has done to be a target of the Opposition in that way. I think it's unfair.”
Police Minister Poto Williams said he was being irresponsible and disrespectful.
"The National Party are probably showing their true colours in terms of their lack of support for the police and the work they are doing to keep us all safe,” she told Stuff.
The outburst appeared to be aimed at stirring excitement for Coster’s appearance at parliamentary select committee on Thursday, which Bridges, the former Opposition leader, said he was “really looking forward to”.
Asked to describe the “hip” things Coster had done, or for the meaning of a “wokester commissioner”, Bridges declined to offer an explanation.
“I'm not going to do all that stuff ... You can come along on Thursday, and you'll get a real good sense of it.”
Bridges said Costers’ view on polices focus – including references to “policing by consent” – in its latest annual report, were not part of the legislative mandate given to the organisation.
The law said police should focus on crime prevention and “a bunch of things related to that”, he said.
“That sort of wider sense of policing by consent, making sure he's being nice to everyone, is just as, or more, important to him. Well, actually, that's not the law. I don't think it's his role. I think he's out of place doing that.”
He said there was always a role for a more social approach within the police, “but this guy has got that balance wrong, in my view”.
A spokesman for National Party leader Judith Collins said Bridges' view of the police's direction was “not something we've formed an official party position on as a caucus”.
The party's deputy leader, Shane Reti, said he had not spoken with Bridges about the policy but the MP was "a trusted colleague, and I'll trust his instinct, and we’ll trust him as well”.
"I'm sure if you look at what Simon's saying he'll drill down into the policy and give you a very clear example of the policy he's unhappy with.
“I won't talk to personalities, I'll talk to jurisprudence policies, and that's what we're good at this, what we want to stay focused on.”
Asked if such the “wokester” label was appropriate, Reti said: “We all handle ourselves differently”.
Williams, the police minister, said Coster’s ideas on police engagement with different parts of the community “directly aligned” with the Government's, there was “absolutely” no reduced focus on tackling crime.
She said police were rolling out programmes, such as Operation Tauwhiro announced on Friday, that would provide a “whole of police response” to issue: Not only making sure young people don't join gangs, but dealing with organised crime and taking guns from gang members.
"This is a senior public servant who actually drives a team of people who get out there for us every single day.
"The people of New Zealand respect the police, they support the work that they're doing, and I think Simon Bridges really is just kind of off the New Zealand message on this.”
A spokeswoman for Coster has been contacted for comment.
The police annual report lists eight core legislative functions, including keeping the peace, maintaining public safety, law enforcement, crime prevention, and community support and reassurance.
“We have the authority to arrest, but we know that doing so is not always the most effective way of addressing crime and harm,” the report said.
“We look to prevention and an outcome-focused approach that helps victims heal and holds offenders to account.”