A Kiwi for Met Commissioner?
Updated: May 25
A Canadian was governor of the Bank of England; an Australian is in charge of England's rugby team; could we be about to have an overseas Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police?
There is no reason, in principle, why not. The advert for the role, vacated in April by Dame Cressida Dick, makes clear that it is open to senior officers from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And now we have learned that one of them has taken up the opportunity.
As revealed by The Times, Mike Bush, who was New Zealand Police Commissioner from 2014 to 2020, has submitted an application and, if successful, would be the first foreign leader of a UK police force. He has 42 years of law enforcement experience behind him, including dealing with the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Christchurch terror attack, but little is known about him in Britain reflecting, perhaps, the rather insular world of domestic policing.
Bush joined New Zealand police in 1978 and worked in a number of operational roles, including as a detective and Interpol liaison officer, before becoming District Commander for South Auckland. He was tasked with driving down crime in Counties Manukau, one of the most multi-cultural parts of the country. There are some 170 different ethnic groups among the population of half-a-million so Bush, aided by the recruitment of 300 extra officers, focused on building relationships with the area's diverse communities as part of a 'neighbourhood policing' approach, which also involved more intelligence-led patrols.
It appeared to work. When he departed, after three years, New Zealand's Police Minister, who was then Judith Collins, said: "He achieved great results in what is not only the country's biggest police district, but the one that is the most ethnically, socially and economically diverse. On his watch the district went from having some of the worst crime statistics in the country to some of the best."
In 2014, Bush adapted the model of policing he'd used in Counties Manukau to the entire country when he was appointed New Zealand Police Commissioner. He called it 'Prevention First'.
“Everything we do is important: preventing, responding, investigating and resolving. The principle here is that it is the order in which you think and act that makes the difference. If you put prevention at the front, you are honouring your reason for coming to work,” he told a conference in 2019.
The strategy was used to tackle a national surge in aggravated burglaries. Police targeted offenders, identified repeat victims, visited 1,200 businesses to provide security advice and secured funding for CCTV cameras in high-risk locations.
He said: “Every district commander needed to understand what was going on in their area, address it and report back to the centre. When commanders are asked to account for what’s going on and ensure they have the solutions, performance improves."
Not everyone in the police service was sold on the idea of 'Prevention First'. Some believed, wrongly, that it meant 'prevention only' when in fact it was simply a return to the basic principles of policing set out by Sir Robert Peel, who founded the Met in 1829. As New Zealand Police Commissioner, Bush has said that he spent 60 per cent of his time driving the transformation to the new model.
"People who delegate transformation out will never succeed," he explained in an article for McKinsey in 2018. "Unless the chief executive and leaders in the organisation own and champion the change, it will never happen. Seeing senior leaders within that group championing the operating model of change makes a massive difference...if you commit time, your people understand how important it is to you."
Indeed, Bush was seldom stuck behind his desk. He travelled the country, speaking to new recruits, listening to what officers had to say. Police training was overhauled, with a new emphasis on leadership skills at every rank. If the 62 year old gets the Met job, that is also likely to be a priority.
He did have some difficult times as Commissioner. When investigative journalists discovered that Bush had been convicted of drink-driving, as an off-duty detective in 1983, he had to release a public statement of apology. "It was extremely poor judgment," he said. "I make no excuses." He had been banned from driving and fined - but had managed to keep his job.
Arguably his toughest period, however, was in 2019 after a gunman murdered 51 people and wounded dozens of others at two mosques in Christchurch in an attack which shocked the world. It led Bush to reflect on lessons for his 'Prevention First' approach. He questioned whether it had failed, concluding that deeper and broader relationships with communities were needed to learn about people who might pose a risk.
“We have a big firearms community. This man was lawfully in possession of firearms used in that attack. He trained at a gun club. Did anyone in that community come to us? No. Would they have if we had better relationships? I think so,” he said.
Although Bush has spent the majority of his career in his homeland, he worked in Thailand for four years, as New Zealand's police representative for 27 countries in south-east Asia. He was there when the devastating tsuanmi struck in 2004 and helped co-ordinate the victim identification process, literally counting the 5,000 bodies that had been taken to hospitals and temples. Like most police officers he had dealt with deaths before, but nothing on that scale.
Bush's commitment to public service might explain why he's prepared to commit to five years in the Met Police cauldron rather than leading a quieter life with his wife and daughter, working as a consultant and improving his water ski-ing technique. Friends say the engaging Kiwi has a "hint of steel in his eyes"; policing is in his blood and he has another challenge in him.
The question is whether the job of Met Commissioner would be too big a challenge. For the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London, the advantage of recruiting an outsider, like Bush, is the objectivity they will bring; the ability to dispassionately make the cultural changes necessary without a sense of loyalty towards colleagues who may need to be moved on and a reliance on institutional structures that might require dismantling. But he has considerable obstacles to overcome, particularly in convincing the selection panel that a police officer who's never policed in the UK before can lead the biggest and most complex police force in the country, an organisation with national and international responsibilities and a budget of £3 billion. Will he be able to command respect from a 46,000-strong workforce that held the previous Commissioner in such high esteem? Does he understand the operational nuances of British policing, especially in the Met? How will he deal with the unique and intense political and media pressures in London? All the other candidates who are known to have applied have had extensive experience at Scotland Yard.
The first time Mike Bush came to London was in the 1980s during a career break from New Zealand police, known as an 'overseas experience'. He spent six months in the capital, working in a high-end optician's as a store detective, before getting a job at a wine bar in the City. He ended up running the place. Could it be that Bush will return to London to run the Met? It would be a bold move to appoint him - but don't rule it out.