Saturday, 23 June 2007

21 June 2007 - tvnz - Anti-smacking guide for police

Anti-smacking guide for police
Jun 21, 2007

With the new anti-smacking law coming into effect on Friday, police have released guidelines on how staff should handle it.

The guide outlines situations where it is okay to smack. But parents opposed to the bill say the guidelines confirm it is their worst nightmare.

The police guidelines acknowledge children are unpredictable. A smack is okay to stop a child running onto a road, experimenting with electrical outlets or behaving in a criminal or offensive way that may harm themselves or others.

Police can also look the other way if the smack is deemed inconsequential or so light it doesn't matter.

But if it comes to police attention, it will be recorded.

"It's a record of police action and potentially if there is a sequence of incidents relating to a particular family or person then police clearly would be failing in their duty not to look at the matter appropriately," says Pope.

In the guide, police state that where force is used against a child, they must consider the amount of force used before deciding whether a prosecution is in the public interest.

If an assault is found to be minor, trivial or inconsequential, the event will be recorded and the file forwarded to a family violence co-ordinator.

But the guide states that "while smacking may, in some circumstances, be considered inconsequential, a prosecution may be warranted if such actions are repetitive or frequent."

Simon Barnett says he is a good father to his four children and smacking is all part of that.

"Then you say 'look if you do that again daddy's going to give you a smack on the count of three. One, two' and if they do it again I will smack her wee hand," Barnett says.

He believes police guidelines on the new anti-smacking law confirm his worst fears that parents like him will be criminalised.

"Even if it's inconsequential smacking, your name goes on a police computer forever as a violent offender. That is unconscionable," he says.

Police say that is just business as usual.

Police use a number of sources for registering complaints, offences or incidents they attend as part of our overall statistical gathering," says Rob Pope, police deputy commissioner.

Like any new law, this one will have to be tested through the courts to see what the judiciary decides is inconsequential smacking or not. The police statement says that until cases go through the courts it is not clear how the law will be applied.

"Well I'm sorry, I don't want to have to be the test case - some poor child getting dragged through the court system and some family suffering that fate," says Barnett.

Police will review the guidelines in three months.

Law "confusing"

Bob McCoskrie from lobby group Family First says the guidelines show the law is confusing.

"If the Police are having difficulty determining the law and its effect, how is a parent trying to do a good job and parent effectively and within the law supposed to have confidence in what they are doing," says McCoskrie.

But bill author Sue Bradford says the guidelines really support the idea behind the bill. She says it is clear that using weapons, or hitting kids around their head is inappropriate and also gives good rules around what is.

CYF won't change approach

And it will be business as usual for Child Youth and Family when the anti-smacking legislation comes into effect on Friday.

CYF says it will look at each notification involving physical discipline in the same way as any other allegation of assault.

Spokeswoman Lee Harris Royal says a smack on the back of the hand to signal displeasure will not reach an intervention stage.

In repeated events where police warnings have been unsuccessful involving the same family, only then will CYFS intervene.

But whether the use of physical force against a child constitutes an offence, will still be a police decision.

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