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It's a tough gig in Covid times

From skin complaints brought on by constant mask wearing to fatigued members coping with staff shortages and an increase in assaults, delegates from north to south have painted a vivid picture of the reality of policing in Covid times.

Although there are regional variations, consistent themes emerged when delegates gave their reports, via a webinar link, to the annual conference.

Staffing numbers and attrition (most worryingly among probationary officers), the increase in gang numbers and the availability of illegal firearms and a hit to morale as lockdowns and the pay round drag on were the big issues.

From the Mid to Far North, Chook Taylor said frontline staff were being taken away from business as usual to staff special projects and Covid checkpoints. At the same time, gangs were becoming more visible in the community and the public were wondering what police were doing about it.

In Waitematā, Lorraine McMurtrie said constant stress and pressures were taking a toll in many ways, including a rise in the number of skin issues officers were experiencing because of constant mask wearing.

Brendan Stewart, from Waitakere, confirmed that staff were “worn out” with issues such as vaccinations, pay and border work. Staff had noted a big increase in the general availability of firearms in the hands of criminals.

From Auckland City, Andrew Gwilliam reported on a busy year with several critical incidents and a dramatic increase in serious assaults on staff. “The biggest challenge is the huge drain on staff away from core roles for checkpoint duties and Covid hotels. No workgroup is untouched.”

In Counties Manukau, Lisa Ross said the disruption caused by Covid and lockdowns was taking a toll as fatigued staff also tried to keep themselves and their families safe.

Staff safety was top of the list in Waikato. Craig Berquist said MIQ and border patrols were a huge drain on BAU, leading to fatigue and burnout among staff.

It was a similar story in Rotorua, compounded by emergency housing in the city being increased from 200 beds to about 1000. As Jade Hesketh reported, “Many of these people have complex needs that our staff have to deal with due to lack of capacity in other agencies.”

The scourge of fatigue and burnout was noted across provincial areas in the Bay of Plenty, Tokoroa and Taupō.

Gisborne was contending with an increase in overt gang violence and firearms offences made up the bulk of calls for service in Wairoa necessitating extra staff being called on to help outside of BAU hours.

The gang problem was also acute in Hawke’s Bay, where Shane Greville said the feeling was that gangs were out of control and “winning the fight”.

Across the central and lower North Island the sentiments were similar – frontline staffing, burnout, firearms and gangs – and those themes persisted in the South.

From Otago Coastal, Anthony Bond said it had been a particularly tough year for mental health call outs, compounded by the stabbing at the Countdown supermarket in Dunedin in May 2021 in which four people were attacked.

Despite the ongoing issues, association president Chris Cahill said it was clear from the feedback that the association’s reps were heavily invested in the profession of policing – both constabulary and Police employees.

The association was also very concerned about gangs and the fact that truancy numbers were trending up around the country. “We are going to have a massive number of youth that the education system has failed and that can translate into a recruiting ground for gangs.”

On the issue of probationary cops leaving, he said it appeared that perhaps the job was not what they had been sold at the recruitment stage.

Pay was also a significant issue and that’s where the association’s focus would be now.

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