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Left, a bystander comes to the aid of the police officer after she was knocked unconscious. Right, police detain a man after he punched a police officer in the head in July 2022.

Senior Constable Brendon Ross has no trouble believing 90% of Police Association members see crime and violence as the most significant threat to law and order in New Zealand.

In the 2021 Member Survey, crime and violence rated 87%; in 2019 it was 78%.

“There is the potential for there to be violence at so many more jobs now,” Brendon says. Just last month, he and his colleague had front-row seats to the latest deadly power play by gangs in Palmerston North.

Brendon also agrees with the 58% who considered violence an extremely significant threat in the Police Association’s 2023 Member Survey.

The association’s Region 4 director has been in Police 27 years – the last 15 years of that as an operational (AOS) dog handler. He was among those first on scene after a gang stoush led to 27-year-old Hori Gage being shot multiple times and killed.

The incident made the daily headlines full of the likes of “shots fired”, “armed police swarm”, “homicide investigation under way”, “brutal gang attack”, “increased police presence”, fatal shooting” and “youths charged after violent assaults”.

“It has become so much more dangerous in the past five years and especially in the past two to three years. It couldn’t get any worse, you’d like to think. Because what's worse than where we are now?” Brendon says.

His cohort – members who have worked for Police for more than 20 years – are more likely to identify the increasing level of violence and crime as an extremely significant threat – at 61% in the survey. Broken down by district, it’s 66% for those who work in Waikato, 63% in Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau, and 62% in Auckland City.

“It used to be a big thing if you found a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Now it's to be expected. I think it's just pure luck that we haven't had another police officer shot and killed in very recent times.”

The public’s unease is felt by those on the frontline as well, Brendon says.

“I would much rather work with someone now 100% of time, because it's just gotten to a stage where I can’t safely operate by myself. That's pretty sad – that I even feel like that and that it’s like that.”

Adding to the concern about increasing levels of crime and violence is a 5 percentage point jump from the 2021 survey to 85% of members being worried about a lack of Police resources.

Brendon says that is especially apparent on the frontline.

“I know every area of policing is busy… but major frustration and safety issues can definitely be identified at the frontline. They are just inundated with family harm and mental health-related incidents. They can't do any prevention work or general policing as such, nowhere near to the degree of what they used to do.

“They're not only busy, frontline police are consistently put in a position where you are playing with luck. You are hoping something doesn't go wrong… they're just totally reactive at the moment. It's wearing them down big time.”

Brendon says the pursuit policy becoming more restrictive for police in late 2020 did not help. “It turned things feral out there for some time.” The figures back up his observations. In 2022, nearly 10,000 people in vehicles fled from police – double the number in 2020.

“It's slowly being wound back a little bit,” he says, “but the first option for any motivated or even half-motivated offender would still be just not to stop, because there can be minimal consequences for that action.”

In the latest survey, 84% of members also identified inadequate penalties for offenders as a large part of the problem – up from 75% in 2021 and 68% in 2019.

Brendon was involved in the case of a “highrisk person of interest” who was sentenced in July for multiple incidents relating to fleeing police and dangerous driving. In one, the offender’s passenger nearly died when she was thrown from the car into a ditch 20 metres away after he fled from police and crashed his vehicle. “He had a starting point of four years’ imprisonment. The end point after all the deductions was four months’ home detention.”

The Police Association has often expressed concerns around sentencing discounts citing examples such as an offender being given nine months’ home detention for shooting and permanently disfiguring a member of the public and another who was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment for illegal possession of 22 semi-automatic firearms.

The association has said sentencing notes often have a clear emphasis on the offender’s situation and limited focus on victims or the impact of violent offending on society as a whole.

Members' feedback

Among the thousands of comments on the question of what members think are the most important issues facing New Zealand Police, there was a heavy focus on the threats of increased crime and violence and its relationship to officer safety.

  • “More offenders becoming more violent and using weapons such as firearms and cars against Police.”
  • “Our safety is not being taken as a priority and, as such, our attitude towards it has changed in a sense that we expect to come to work to be assaulted, diminished and threatened by the public and offenders that we have to deal with at incidents.”
  • “Violent crime and lawlessness… gangs, drugs and violence have been glorified in various media and the prospects of being apprehended decrease, as do consequences.”
  • “Increasing seriousness of violence towards police officers.”
  • “Police safety – with gun offences on the rise... we need more training or consistent training to deal with jobs involving guns.”
  • “Youth crime appears out of control and offences involving firearms and gang-related violence seem to be going up.”
  • “Worsening violence towards police and the community becoming more violent in general.”
  • “Escalation in crimes against police.”
  • “I feel it is becoming more dangerous in some areas to be a police officer.”

The statistics to back concerns about officer safety are revealed in the data on threats to officers, with 15% of constabulary reporting they have been threatened with a firearm at least once in the past 12 months – up from 13% in the 2021 survey.

The percentage is highest among the frontline (general duties branch, public safety teams and dog section) at 28%.

Two in five – 42% – of constabulary have been threatened with a weapon other than a firearm.

The 2023 survey reveals 26% of members have been attacked by an offender at least once in the past year, with 11% being injured. Injuries by an offender are more common among constabulary – 15% (frontline roles – 29%, and road policing – 21%).

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