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Chris Cahill speaks to directors and delegates at the Police Association's 86th Annual Conference.

86th Annual Conference: President's speech

Read President Chris Cahill's opening speech from the 2021 Annual Conference here.

Welcome Minister Poto Williams and welcome delegates.

I’d like to begin with an acknowledgement of the work of our members during this Covid-affected era.

Police has a distinct role during a pandemic and must strike the delicate balance between enforcing government-mandated restrictions, all the while securing public trust and support. This means remaining calm and clear while at the forefront of the guard against virus spread.

It also means operating at a highly vigilant level to protect their own wellbeing, that of their colleagues and the families they go home to at the end of each shift.

Our members are under heightened public scrutiny during a pandemic, particularly when lockdown fatigue has set in amongst the public and people are prevented or severely restricted in moving far from their homes.

I know members who are working in the Auckland region are feeling the strain of the extended Levels 4 and 3.

Long shifts on border control are vital for the safety of Kiwis everywhere but this ongoing duty of checking the validity of motorists’ travel documents day after day has an obvious impact on motivation.    

When Covid first hit last year, our members stepped up to the extra demands required, and they did so again in 2021 when the Delta variant arrived.

The professionalism, protection, assistance, and guidance they have delivered across the country has been unflinching and we are all the safer for it.

It is no surprise then that the association has been particularly frustrated and angered by the lack of vaccination priority afforded most officers, to, in turn, keep them safe from infection. Afterall, these officers are the ones out in the community dealing with actual and potentially positive individuals, often in highly volatile circumstances.

The vaccination rollout picked up in the past few weeks and that is great, but instead of taking weeks when vaccinations first became available, it has taken months.

As an organisation we now need to do all we can to encourage members to be fully vaccinated.

Encourage the highest possible vaccination levels amongst members so as to avoid the plateau that seems to occur in populations after a certain percentage are vaccinated.

In terms of morale, I believe the non-prioritisation of frontline officers has severely damaged their sense of worth, particularly when combined with a wage freeze that was announced on the very morning we began negotiations.

This unwelcome surprise has proved a significant barrier to meaningful negotiations with Police.

We have made limited progress despite positive intentions from both parties, and it is most likely we will head to final offer arbitration for the sworn collective. That will necessitate the Police Employees’ negotiations being put on hold.

One issue we do agree with the Public Service Commission on is the need for an increase for lower paid members - approximately 25 per cent of Police employees earn under 60-thousand dollars per year and they rightly deserve an increase.

It has been motivating to see this group mobilise and promote their concerns.

SSOs and FSOs from across the country have unified to produce credible examples of the realities they face in their roles, demonstrating the association model of members being the drivers for change.

This work continues and the cause is well justified.

While payround slogs on in the background, policing, whether it be on the frontline or in other workgroups, continues 24/7, every day of the year.

As we all know, unexpected challenges such as Covid-19 come as add-ons to core police work, which is escalating year-on-year regardless of emergencies – even a pandemic.

Family violence, mental health, gang warfare, shootings, assaults and all the other callouts continue unabated.

Mental health calls were just shy of 69,000 last year and by August 2021 were already at 47,000.

For August alone – half of which was spent under lockdown levels 4 and 3 – there were 6095 calls to assist New Zealanders suffering mental distress. That was up on the previous month, and the average time spent on a mental health callout has also increased.

The average number of calls a month for 2020 was 5760: 1329 a week: 189 a day!

Family violence investigations are trending up year-on-year with 2021 numbers on track to equal or surpass the 187,000 of 2020.

Again, Covid lockdowns do not help.

During Levels 4 and 3 this past August, incidents jumped 731 on the July number to 15,654.

These numbers are relentless - fluctuating between 15 to 17 thousand, month-on-month.

In 2020 the average was 15,584 investigations a month: 3596 a week; 512 a day.

The combination of these two types of calls for service accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the work of a frontline officer. What worries me deeply is there seems to be no tangible solutions in sight for either of these particularly challenging community-wide demands, and so, as with other social failures, they land heavily in the lap of police.

As an association focusing on the wellbeing of members, we are extremely concerned at the toll exacted by the relentless increase in their workloads and scrutiny that I’d venture to say has never been higher.

The successful defence of our three Hāwera members highlighted the role of the association in this challenging environment our members now work in.

Disquiet at the pressure-cooker workload of policing has no doubt been heightened with the advent of Delta.

Currently, 600 frontline officers have been reallocated to work at MIQs and at the provincial checkpoints. Siphoning that many officers from the always-stretched frontline cannot be done without impacting on day-to-day policing.

We must ask what is not being done?

Or, more importantly, who is missing out?

Let me use a Covid-related analogy.

If Covid patients occupy an increasing number of hospital beds and require medical treatment from nurses and doctors, those resources will obviously be in diminished supply for non-Covid patients – those scheduled for cancer treatment, heart ailments, non-urgent surgery, or other health issues.

As with health resources, policing resources are finite, so you can’t just redeploy hundreds of frontline officers to alternative duties without negative ramifications for crime resolution.

Something must give.

We do not want the cost to be the physical and mental wellbeing of members, but from where we stand now, that is a distinct and concerning reality.

The association is increasingly mindful of the mounting pressures on members arising from a discernibly violent change in New Zealand’s criminal/policing landscape.

One glaring illustration of that change is the willingness of criminals to assault police.

In 2020 there were 1520 serious assaults on police – that’s an average of four a day.

Officers have been ‘king hit’, punched in the face, kicked in the head, bitten, and an attack on one officer was described as they were “thrown around like a rag doll”.

The physical injuries include, and are not limited to, severe concussions, traumatic brain injuries, impaired vision, facial, skull and limb fractures. Many require surgery and prolonged recouperation; some are career ending.

In our biennial surveys of members, they tell us how they feel about their roles, how safe they feel, how supported and how well trained they are.

This information is vital in terms of policy development and provides us with surety for our media and political interface.

When 5917 members take the time to complete a survey you are compelled to take notice.

Once again, the 2021 Survey highlighted the prominence of the general arming quandary which, over the past 12 months, has been openly debated by members, within Police, and in the public/media sphere.

By its very nature it is an emotive and complicated topic with a variety of perspectives.

A frontline cop could consider a Glock on the hip as another tactical option when facing an offender with a gun.

Police management may look at general arming through a wider lens of staff safety and political implications.

Politicians have their views and so do members of the public, based on varied levels of information and consideration.

The reality is that in the current environment general arming is off the agenda for Police, and while this is at odds with the association’s official position, it does not mean we don’t work with Police management on other staff safety initiatives.

With the introduction of the Tactical Response Model in September Police acknowledged the increased risks illegal firearms pose to officers.

While the Tactical Response Model is not perfect, and it cannot address all the concerns of members, it does contain positive enhancements to the status quo, and the association welcomes them.

A more than doubling of PITT training and the delivery mechanism for this is a significant advancement, and one our members have been calling for over many years in our survey. So, kudos for that.

The success of the Targeted Prevention Teams will very much depend on whether they are rolled out in sufficient numbers across key areas of frontline policing. What we will need them to demonstrate is their ability to bridge the gap left by the abandonment of the ARTs.

The value of double-crewing dog handlers with an AOS trained member is logical when you take account of how often dog handlers are at the forefront of the risky responses to armed offenders.

However, there remain notable gaps in the safety net - the most obvious are rural areas that don’t have dog handlers and won’t see TPTs.

It is also, once again, disappointing that the wider issue of single crewing has not been addressed in this model.

The association acknowledges the complexities required to balance the dangers of, and solutions to continued single crewing – particularly in rural districts.

We will debate this further during this conference, as we have in previous years. New research points to the potential safety values of double crewing, and we will analyse the dog handler initiative for further insights into the benefits.

The need for measures to enhance officer safety is without doubt driven by the plethora of illegal firearms in our communities.

The association believes long-term member safety depends heavily on a restriction in the supply of firearms to criminals.

Key to this is a two-pronged approach of precise targeting of those who have illegal weapons, and the urgent implementation of a firearms registry which will considerably reduce the supply line.

The success of the Tactical Response Model will ultimately be judged by frontline staff.

What matters is how it improves their safety when they are out in the community staring down the dangers.

The association will rely on the credible feedback from members on this. It is a focus I ask committee reps to lead wherever and whenever they can.

To assist with this, we have revamped our training for committee members. In the first quarter of 2022 we hope to roll out a new four-step approach to training, beginning with a basic introduction to the association, followed by more specialised packages designed to utilise member skills in the areas they are interested in.

We will also be utilising directors to drive better engagement to improve participation of members in association activities.

The strength of the association is built on the member participation and the fact that when we speak, we do so with the authority of up-to-date information straight from our members. This is crucial to ensuring we remain relevant and credible.

While hamstrung by Covid I am still looking forward to the next two days of delivering further member-led discussion.

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