Does police culture prevent the New Zealand Police from making the best use of DNA technology to investigate crime?

Gardner, Catherine May
Buttle, John
Crothers, Charles
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The international literature refers to many studies on the application of DNA technology by the police. These studies cover topics such as police use of forensic evidence, the ethical use of DNA, the application of DNA evidence in courts and the implications of an unchallenged proliferation in DNA legislation. The literature pertinent to the police use of DNA technology identifies that when the police do use DNA to investigate crime the results are good, confirming that DNA is an effective means by which to identify offenders and the police should make use of it. However, there is no in-depth research about how the police actually use DNA technology to investigate crime, nor about the effectiveness of the New Zealand national DNA database. This unique research adds to the international literature through a New Zealand case study. While police forces worldwide have a history of adopting new technology in the belief it will make them look professional and improve their effectiveness in preventing or solving crime, they have not necessarily maximised the full capabilities of this technology. From a theoretical view there are two key issues that prevent the effective use of DNA technology: 1) ineffective application of organisational processes to use it efficiently; in that there is reluctance by staff to change their behaviours leading to a likelihood that new processes will be circumvented; 2) the cultural resistance to change at both the middle management and front line levels. These two are intrinsically linked as they drive each other. When there is resistance to change it can prevent an organisation from implementing sound business practices. This leads to limitations of buy-in from staff as they do not perceive the value of this new technology and they have not been provided with the organisational framework to make the best use of this technology. This is interpreted from the theoretical construct of Chan’s ‘field and habitus’ of policing and the impact that police culture can have on the successful implementation of new technology. Police culture can impede change within the organisation as they have a definite comfort zone that does not include any great change to their processes or practices. They are content to try new technology as long as they can continue to police in the way they have always done. This research looks at one district within the New Zealand Police to examine how they use the national DNA database to investigate crime. Files from the 2005 calendar year where DNA was found at the scene of a crime were reviewed. To add more depth to the data recovered from the files, a range of practitioners were interviewed to establish their views on DNA use by the police. The results of the study were the identification of several issues with the data entry and the capturing of statistics. While the data was limited due to the vagaries of police information, it was discovered that despite all the time and energy the New Zealand Police have spent on DNA technology they have not reduced crime or in some cases even solved crime in spite of its use. The empirical evidence gathered from police files, interviews and other literature showed that although the New Zealand national DNA database functions as intended, the police do not make the best use of it to investigate crime. New Zealand Police needs to appear legitimate in the eyes of the public when enacting its powers and a topic such as DNA is always going to generate emotive responses. Moreover, the police need to be more aware of the impact on the public of the use of their powers, therefore the taking and retaining of DNA samples needs to be for legitimate reasons. For this to be acceptable to the public the police need to be seen to be making the best use of DNA technology to investigate crime.

Police culture , DNA , Investgation , Technology , Field and habitus
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