President's Column: The need for more police
Without a doubt, the big issues we carry into 2017 are the need for more police and the cumulative stress driven by persistent staff shortages.
We left 2016 with a strong indication from the Government that help was on the way. We now turn to the new minister, Paula Bennett, encouraging her to address this issue immediately.
When I campaigned for the presidency, staff shortages and stress were the most frequently raised topics and during recent travels across the country, it is clear they are impacting everywhere. Some districts and workgroups may attract more publicity than others – the Far North is a case in point – but focusing on one or two districts does not do justice to the scale of the issue.
The cold hard truth is that against a stagnant police muster we are balancing a significant increase in demand for services, a variety of extra roles introduced into policing, a rising population and more gun, gang and drug crime.
With our current one officer to every 526 people we have fallen behind even the 1:500 target set by National in 2008. Where we really need to be is 1:413 – the ratio in Queensland – a population similar to New Zealand in size and urban/rural split.
Police has come a long way in improving performance and adopting social policy and prevention initiatives on a tight budget. I am enthusiastic about a number of new policing initiatives, such as Neighbourhood Policing Teams, introduced in recent years. However, while members are doing extraordinary work to achieve results, it is evident that some new policing roles have come at the expense of traditional frontline sections and investigators.
The pre-Christmas announcement to move 111 Road Policing staff to other duties indicates just how stretched resources really are. If Police is still determined to cut Road Policing staff following the horrific holiday road toll, it shows how under-resourced other areas must be.
Driving around parts of the North Island over the past few weeks, the lack of a visible Road Police presence was alarming.
With stretched and stressed staff comes the probability of safety risks and service failures. We must ask ourselves if the limited number of staff available in Wairarapa over a mid-January weekend contributed to a member of the public being inadvertently left in the court cells for 48 hours. We cannot tolerate a status quo in which staff shortages lead to this type of incident.
We have briefed Minister Bennett on these and other concerns and await her Government’s answers. Labour and NZ First have already gone out strong on law and order and police numbers as election-year platforms.
It is now past time for police efforts to be recognised and rewarded with more staff. New Zealanders deserve quality service and our police deserve to be able to provide that without being stretched and stressed to breaking point.
|Note: This column was printed before the Government announced a policing package on 2 February that included 1125 new police staff.|