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A defining year for all Kiwis

The terror attack in Christchurch was foremost on the minds of many of the speakers at this year’s Police Association conference.

President Chris Cahill kicked off proceedings by acknowledging the horrific events of March 15. For all New Zealanders the year would be defined by the mosque shootings, and for the association, by the exceptional response from members across every aspect of policing – from the frontline, STG and AOS, the comms centres, forensics, CIB and everywhere in between, he said.

He told delegates gathered in Wellington that “all in a day’s work” for policing meant anything was possible, and probable. “In a single day, no other job goes from holding someone at gunpoint to comforting another in the depths of despair.”

He paid tribute to the work of association Region 6 director Mike McRandle and Tasman and Canterbury field officer Catherine McEvedy, who were there, “day and night, knowing instinctively what was needed”.

“Christchurch was the worst imaginable of the potential firearms catastrophes many of us in policing have dreaded for some time,” he said.

“This is why the association is fully supportive of the Government’s crackdown on the types of firearms that so quickly killed 51 people. These weapons have no place or purpose in our communities – urban or rural.

“It will ensure a future New Zealand will not be looking back over its shoulder knowing it has failed to act. In the aftermath of Christchurch we were forced to do just that in acknowledging we failed to heed the lessons of Aramoana.”

Police continues to recruit staff and compared with two years ago, there are now more than 780 additional officers on the streets, and an additional 750 Police employees.

“My intel from the districts is the extra numbers are beginning to make a noticeable difference in frontline policing,” Chris said.

And the latest members’ survey reflects this, showing dissatisfaction with the numbers of frontline police has dropped from 85 per cent in 2017 to 66 per cent this year.

Resourcing woes continue to dog certain workgroups, with 81 per cent of members saying GDB frontline staff are not adequately resourced, and 60 per cent are dissatisfied with resourcing levels in the fight against organised crime and drugs. Road policing is also a concern.

“I believe we need to pay close attention to what is happening with road policing. Our road toll is already at 259 deaths for 2019 with 2½ months to go. The severity of the concern for our members is reflected in a jump from 37 per cent to 51 per cent of road police who do not believe they are receiving adequate resourcing,” Chris said.

“The members’ survey was conducted after the Christchurch attacks so we were interested to see if there was a correlating surge, or drop, in police and public attitudes to general arming.

“More than half of constabulary are now satisfied with the current access to firearms – up from 44 per cent in 2017 to 53 per cent this year. On the frontline that satisfaction level is 68 per cent.

“Support for general arming has remained at 66 per cent. What is worth noting is that public support for general arming has jumped from 55 per cent to 61 per cent – the highest level since the survey began in 2008.”

Addressing the conference theme of organised crime, Chris said the United Nations estimates the illicit meth market in Australia and New Zealand is now worth $11.1 billion, partly because of the disproportionately high prices in Australasia. High-level Mexican drug cartels have also began to target New Zealand.

Chris said his biggest concern was the rapid growth in gang numbers and the effect this will have on the lives of New Zealanders. The latest figures show a 26 per cent increase in the past two years – that’s almost 1400 new gang members.

Bay of Plenty and Eastern districts have the largest concentration of gangs, with 1380 and 1041 gang members respectively, but by far the biggest growth has been in Tasman and Southern districts.

“The most identified threats to law and order in New Zealand are meth use and organised crime. The correlation between what our members are reporting and the official stats is unmistakeable. We know these two threats go hand in hand.”

He ended his speech with a video collage summarising the past year in policing, including media coverage of the mosque attacks, the gun buy-back, motorway pursuits, Flints, firearms and drug seizures, armed confrontations, new recruits and police shootings.

Even Police Ten 7’s Sergeant Guy Baldwin got a look-in on the 10th anniversary of the first screening of his advice to a suspect late at night – if you want to buy a pie from a service station at 3am, “you must always blow on the pie. Safer communities together”.

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