President's Column: New troops can't arrive soon enough

NZPA - Greg O'Connor | Thu September 1st, 2016

A good thing happened last month: politicians on both sides agreed that police numbers need to be increased.

The numbers were frozen at 8907 sworn employees in election week 2011 after the Government responded to a leak that police recruiting was being suspended.

That was the RAT (resource allocation target) that night and has been the magic figure since, despite population and other growth.

Many policy and other changes have occurred since, such as Prevention First, Mobility, centralisation (especially of Police employee positions) and the overlaying of the Counties Manukau model on the rest of the country, most of which reduced the numbers available for response policing.

Also, the ranking of police ministers at the Cabinet table dropped from being in the top six for nine years up until 2011 to being to the bottom half ever since. That meant a diminished voice in Cabinet at Budget allocation time.

It has been clear that the public are increasingly unhappy with what they see as a diminishing service and police presence, and it was only a matter of time until the politicians began to notice.

As usual, it became apparent in the provinces first, and in the smallest Police district, Northland, it has become chronic.

The Association’s policy document produced for the 2014 election made it clear that staff shortages were the emerging issue. This reflected our staff surveys. We suggested a minimum ratio of one police officer to 500 members of the public, with the Queensland ratio of one officer to 413 as the optimum.

The good news is that the police minister and the prime minister have both acknowledged the need to increase numbers, with the one to 500 ratio being the target, while NZ First has adopted the Australian target, which would mean a considerable increase. Labour has also indicated it would increase numbers.

The winner, of course, will be the New Zealanders who will get a better service, as did the people of South Auckland when their numbers were increased by 300 in 2008. Importantly, the support staff were also increased at that time, a significant factor when sworn staff numbers are being considered.

So, while the relief will not arrive overnight, the first barrier to fixing the problem has been crossed – the acknowledgement that there are simply too few police officers and support staff in New Zealand today.

In an increasingly volatile and violent world, New Zealand has the opportunity to be the safest country to live in, visit and do business. A well-resourced, well-trained, and well-structured police is an essential component of achieving that.

The new troops can’t arrive soon enough.

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