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Christchurch City chairman Lachy Garrick was in a nostalgic mood when he delivered his report to the committee this year.
He noted how much Police had changed since he joined in 1989, when “we were all quite happy with our green screen Whanganui computers, hand-written notes and the occasional report courtesy of a typewriter”.
“I recall a revamped AOS command bus specially fitted with PCs – a new term – that moved around stations in Canterbury allowing staff to become familiar with the Windows operating system, complete with a mouse!”
Now, the committee was holding its first annual meeting in the modern, safe, state-of-the-art $300 million Justice Precinct where police worked alongside other agencies serving the community.
But despite all the advances, he said, the issues that members faced daily remained as complex as they ever were “in an environment that demands the best and yet is increasingly less forgiving when things don’t go as planned”.
Members were still faced with near constant reviews and the daily scramble to ensure minimum response levels were met, which all took a toll on Police’s most important resource – its people.
On that note, just about every committee chair had something to say about the plan to inject 1800 more staff into Police over the next three years. While welcoming the prospect, many said the fear among members was that there would either not be enough money and recruiting standards might fall, or attrition levels would make that an impossible target.
Rotorua chair Mike Membrey said the promise of 700 extra staff for fighting organised crime was welcome, “but we also need to balance the removal of experienced staff from the frontline. We do not want to put undue pressure on new staff starting their policing careers”.
In Tauranga, chair Wayne Hunter said the number of new recruits coming out of the Police College was failing to keep pace with attrition there. The public safety teams were particularly hard hit and those left at the coalface were having to take up the slack.
Gisborne chair Brent Griffiths said that over the past year, his area had carried up to 16 vacancies at any one time across all workgroups, due to promotions, welfare transfers, leave without pay, appointments to national vacancies and resignations.
Pleasingly, several chair reports also showed that committees had taken on board the Association’s desire for more diversity and gender balance among reps.
Jesse Mowat, chair for the North Shore, Rodney and Auckland Motorways committee, said they had achieved a 50-50 gender split, and a 66-33 constabulary-Police employee split (equating to two Police employees).
Not to be outdone, Waitakere chair Michael Colson reported that his committee had assigned an ethnic liaison rep.
On a more prosaic note, Michael also reported that the new locker room at the Henderson Police Station was going to be a unisex facility, “which is a big change from what we are used to”. Staff would have to “change with the times, and not get changed in front of their locker, as is the current practice”.
Several chairs said they wanted a broader cross-section of staff from all work groups joining the committees, especially younger members.
In Waikato, chair Derek Lamont reported on a busy year for his district, including two critical incidents – the Morrinsville shooting and the River Road fleeing driver death.
In relation to the first incident, Derek said that an unarmed officer coming under fire was totally unacceptable. “So I would ask Police and the Government to ensure that the health and safety of staff and public can take a serious step forward to routine arming and provide a safe working environment for staff.”
Of the second incident, he said that failing to stop for police should come with a mandatory prison sentence.
Whanganui chair Zak Thornton said his committee had a wish list for the future that included:
• Continued rollout of cross band radios in vehicles so that communication was not an iissue for staff attending jobs in rural areas.
• Sufficient numbers of firearms sets and suitable access for all work groups.
• That deployment of staff, especially PST, below minimum numbers would become a thing of the past.
Lack of PST numbers was a concern in many other areas, including Palmerston North, where chair Allan Wells said there were shifts where minimum numbers were not being met. “Many members are concerned not only for their own safety, but about the service we give to our community.” Sadly, he said, many staff were simply afraid to speak up about the problem for fear of “not being on board” and doing themselves out of a job.
In Nelson, chair Brett Currie said there was obviously a problem with planning around recruitment, resulting in large “peaks and troughs” of staff numbers there. “Given that it takes the better part of a year to get a recruit in place, trained and back to district, Police should be able to plan ahead and keep the actual staffing levels at a relative constant.”
Uncertainty over the upcoming restructure of file management centres is on the radar for several committees as they deal with member concerns about their future employment, particularly in provincial areas.
On such issues, it was in the advocacy space, said Timaru chair Paul Hampton, that the Association continued to prove its real relevance to members, “advocating for them in a manner that removes personalities and places the onus on Police to follow best practice, or sometimes simply their own policies”.
Turnout at this year’s annual meetings was variable around the country, with the standouts being 70 people in Palmerston North and 60 in Invercargill. And the metropolitan centres? Well, not so good. President Chris Cahill has acknowledged that the logistics of getting to meetings in the bigger cities can be difficult, but thinks better communication could help.
The value of the committee system was highlighted by several chairs, including Marlborough’s Barrie Greenall who also praised the Association’s office holders training course, held earlier this year in Wellington, for raising the skill level of the committees.
Wairarapa chair Mark Brown wanted to get the message across that being a committee member did not come with an obligation to be an office holder, unless you wanted to, in case anyone was confused about that.
And Taupō chair AJ Munro had this message: “Being a committee member, you are asked to keep in touch with what is going on at the coalface. By doing this, we ensure early detection and provide appropriate information. If we do not hear or identify current trends and concerns to our national office, then they will be oblivious to what is really happening. All members have a part to play. If your gut feeling tells you your mate is not right, either talk to them or advise someone who can have that discussion.”