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Welcome to our first full, in-person annual conference since 2019.

If you had any doubts about the everyday realities for our members, that video should have dispensed with them immediately.

It can be tough going, fast-paced, at times relentless and dangerous.

It is also incredibly rewarding, and the collegiality is unquestionable.

Our theme focuses on the challenges we have before us; challenges that can only be achieved if solutions are driven and informed by what members are telling us.

Their insights into the multiple issues shaping the demands of policing are key to effective plans for a complex, fast-changing environment.

Are we enforcers or social workers?

Pro-active or reactive?

Can we ever be adequately funded for what we know we need to do?

Does technology work for or against us?

Are we ready for the long overdue diversity now apparent in every recruit wing of late?

At face value these may seem contradictory, but meeting our future challenges requires of us an agility to pivot to whatever societal changes and demands we are presented with.

The Covid pandemic is Exhibit A.

It seemed to come out of nowhere and it impacted greatly on society and on police – as a cohort and as individuals.

It exacerbated underlying challenges to our social cohesion which had been bubbling away for many years.

Aotearoa’s growing inequities in which the ‘haves’ have more, and the ‘have-nots’ have less, did not happen overnight, yet suddenly it was stark – on the streets, in emergency housing, in blatantly opportunistic crime – all frequent components of our daily news diet.

As police we are in the thick of any conflict within society.

A major characteristic of a fraying society is lack of secure housing.

Having a home is a well-recognised basic element of personal and family stability. Alarmingly, home ownership in New Zealand is now at the lowest level in almost 70 years.

Owning a home is out of the questions for so many Kiwis.

The domino effect goes like this:

Families are regularly moving from rental to rental, often necessitating changing schools and communities.

Rented homes are more likely to be smaller, older, in need of major repair, and have more damp and mould than owned homes.

Ten thousand New Zealanders, half of them children, are now living in emergency accommodation – mainly motels.

This housing and social insecurity feeds directly into a decline in school attendance. In New Zealand, 2022, 8600 children aged 5 to 16 are not receiving education, and non-enrolment has increased by 70 per cent.

Truancy is not a criminal offence, but there is a connection with young truants becoming offenders, or victims of crime. Children of poorly supported families often get into trouble. The implications for families and society are serious.

Multiple overlapping forms of inequity such as housing insecurity and living in environments characterised by high levels of economic and social inequity, also expose people to violence and victimisation.

The pandemic has also fuelled an alarming jump in disinformation which, in turn, feeds mistrust and social disorganisation…and ultimately involves police.

The police ‘role’ in a pandemic has been firmly embedded in the public consciousness.”

We all know there will be another pandemic; we don’t know on what scale.

We need to work now to secure the partnerships and collaboration across agencies to prevent the social disharmony that bubbled to the surface before exploding at Parliament in March.

I asked earlier whether we are enforcers or social workers?

Rightly we are both, but the trajectory indicates we, as police, are becoming stuck between two masters – the communities subjected to crime and violence and understandably wanting justice, and another set of Kiwis who, for the benefit of all, essentially need rescuing from themselves.

Many interest groups, including some within Police, differ on what and how they expect Police to deliver.

The Prevention First strategy has given Police a much more holistic social response to address crime and its drivers, but increasingly, sections of the public are demanding a more proactive approach to offending, with more visibility across communities.

Competition for resources is intense.

Prevention is a long-term strategy and requires significant resource commitment plus a leap of faith that there will eventually be a return on the investment.

That’s a tough sell when public concern about crime is fast increasing. A survey by market research company IPSOS puts crime at its highest concern level in 4 years, and it projects crime will be the second most important issue New Zealand will be facing over the next five years.

The images in our opening video are screened across Aotearoa nightly and, together with being ripe for political point scoring, intensify calls for officers to be out on the beat, walking the streets, catching ‘crims’ and thereby making people feel safe.

As much as I hate to say it, given the relentless demands on police time and resources this conventional style of policing is, at times, a ‘would-love-to-have’ luxury.

The inconvenient truth is Police is stretched across what are clearly the domains of many other government departments. Until the likes of the Ministry of Health, MSD and Oranga Tamariki at least step up, Police, as the 24/7 government department is relied on to deliver services they are neither funded for nor proficient in.

This is particularly so with mental distress calls – of which there were 192 thousand last year and 126 thousand so far this year.

As mental health services struggle to cope police have become the first responders in situations which are predominantly not criminal.

Research into how officers interact with those in mental distress concludes the current response model may be unsustainable and notes while officers are consistently doing their best, “Police as an organisation cannot simply merge the old system of policing into the contemporary approach required today.”

How many initiatives can be appropriately prioritised before police are spread too thinly and risk doing nothing well?

That’s no strategy and it will not wash with current or future Police staff. 

It is reasonable to ask whether technology can assist.

Last month we were confronted with a concerning disruptor to basic crime-solving technology such as fingerprints and photos by the report from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and IPCA. This needs to be challenged and I expect Police to initiate that.

Facial recognition technology could be a game-changer in crime prevention and detection, but it too comes with much concern over potential abuse. We need to identify the balance seriously and logically between beneficial crime-solving agents and rights and responsibilities.

The concept of body cameras attracts considerable attention, but they are no simple – or cheap – fix.

Generally, members believe bodycams will protect them from false allegations and one-sided private video recordings. Critics claim they will expose incidents of officer bad behaviour.

The association is supportive of the technology, but the devil lies in the detail of the price tag, how the cameras are utilised and who has control over and access to the footage.

The findings of the OPC/IPCA report indicate significant hurdles ahead for any introduction of body cameras.

Somehow, I can see groups critical of police screaming “breach of privacy” when bodycam footage doesn’t quite prove and officer to be in the wrong.

This is nothing new to those on the frontline.

Police regularly face loud and ill-informed claims of over-reach by critics who, in the next breath are demanding police action to protect them.

A keen example of conflicting views on how police should deliver.

In another reference back to our opening video, the future ‘face’ of Police in New Zealand is fast changing.

At one end of the spectrum, we have an ageing group due to retire over the next five years. Taking their places are more women, Māori, Pacifica, Indian and Asian officers. This diversity is a credit to Police and we must work together to plan for the needs and expectations, health and wellbeing of a changing workforce.

For example, it follows that maternity/paternity leave will be in more demand and that obviously means additional staffing requirements to cope with parental leave and FEO.

For government there are serious budget implications if it intends to fulfil its policies of equal employment opportunity and of one officer to every 480 citizens.  

At the same time attrition is slowly rising again after reaching near record lows during the COVID pandemic.

This is a world-wide trend so our challenge here is to retain the officers we have recruited, trained and know are vital to New Zealand’s ability to meet its future policing challenges.  (Hands of Aussies)

Policing is always evolving and adapting to societal changes, diverse groups and polarising views. There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges ahead, but our opening video gave testament to an Aotearoa increasingly served by a workforce more representative of its communities than ever before.

For Police as an employer and the association as a representative body, we owe it to all Police staff to earnestly plan today so they have the tools, including the budgets, to face this complex and challenging policing future.

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