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Former Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price.

Guest speaker former Canterbury District Commander Superintendent John Price offers his ideas to alleviate pressure on police and warns of an impending catastrophic event – “believe me, that's going to be a whole different demand for you”.

John Price is now in a top job at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) – a role he started the day after he ended his 36-year police career. So he knows about pressure-cooker situations.

Speaking to the theme of the 2023 annual conference, Demand Deluge, John says, “You've got to understand your demand before you can actually start to make an impact on it.”

Dynamic demand fluctuates over time, he says, but there are cycles – Christmas, school holidays, the seasons, budget cycles, for example. And then there is daily demand.

“It's really fascinating me that when we actually have most of our demand is when we don't have most of our people working.

“So 25% of our demand predominantly is during that early shift, 50% is during late shift, and another 25% during night shift. But when do we have most of our people working? During the day shift. So [Police could do] some simple things about getting that right.”

John believes Police must first define demand and then look more closely at how it’s met. “In trying to identify it, we jump quickly to reactive demand but how much time do we spend in proactive policing? Then there’s internal demand [from higher up or bureaucracy].”

He firmly believes Police needs an insights report on demand: “You need to know what your target looks like… it’s also really important to forecast the demand that’s coming down the pipeline.”

Look to the horizon

John says if you are forced to think differently about demand, you turn your mind to change and innovation, especially when there are financial constraints.

One thing Police does have is great tools, he says. “[Police] has 500 people in the intelligence area. Let’s leverage off our intelligence capability… not tactical or operational. Where’s our strategic intelligence… what’s at the horizon.”

John would also like to see geographic information systems (GIS) used more. “It hasn’t been tapped into as well as it could to identify hotspots, hot locations, knowing  where you’ve been and what impact you’ve had and then overlay that with victims and offenders.”

When he was area commander at Porirua, he gathered data on where offenders lived and how far they travelled to commit their crimes. He found it was 500 metres on average, mostly because of terrain. When he moved to Canterbury, the average distance to commit a burglary was 5km – it was a flat city, you could move around on a bike easily.

“Knowing that meant you were well informed as to what your strategies would look like. It’s crime science. What we do is simple if you break it down, but you need the science behind it… I think we need scientists within Police that can help us understand the threat scape.”

The 2-3-4 model

Police has one goal, John says, and that’s to make New Zealand safer. He offered a model to help achieve that goal. He says we know the following:

  • 2% of offenders commit 20% of crime
  • 3% of the population make up 53% of reported victims
  • 4% of locations make up 25% of calls for service.

Using those figures, he says, it means, of the 12,000 people Canterbury puts through its custodial suite each year, only about 200 of them are committing a fifth of the crime – out of a total population of 640,000.

“So if you wanted to reduce crime by 20%, you'd be targeting those 2%. Imagine if we were to focus on The 2-3-4. What could that do?”

John says it is working in Denmark, which has a similar population to New Zealand. Up until two years ago, it was considered the most unsafe country in Europe. “It's now the safest. Their key is they've worked out that 1.2% of offenders commit 24% of overall harm and crime… that would probably be very similar in New Zealand.

“The evidence points clearly to not only most criminal events being attributed to a small group of people, places or times, [but] most crime harm is concentrated in a small percentage of places, victims and offenders. If we concentrated and took some time to identify those small numbers, I think there's an opportunity [there for New Zealand policing].”

Mental health dilemma

John also has a potential – albeit radical – solution for Police to deal with mental health more effectively and efficiently, suggesting it adopt an approach that has been successful in England.

It began in April 2019, when Humberside Chief Constable Lee Freeman decided that a year from then, his officers would stop going to calls for service that were not truly police-related matters. Humberside had been receiving 25,000 welfare check, missing person or mental health calls a year – 11% of total demand. Officers were deployed to 78% of them and most did not need police there.

The chief constable conceived a new approach to mental health called Right Care, Right Person. It meant sending officers to only the most essential mental health related jobs. The rest were diverted to health professionals. It freed up 1440 officer hours a month and Humberside began achieving the highest arrest and crime detection rates in England.

The programme is on the way to being adopted across England and Wales.

Catastrophic demand

John then went down a different tack – from current demand to “the impending wave of demand that keeps me up at night” – events far worse than Cyclone Gabrielle and the Canterbury earthquakes.

He says there are events on the horizon that would put enormous pressure on police as first responders. In the next 50 years, the likelihood of the following occurring are:

  • An 80% chance of an equivalent or worse event than Cyclone Gabrielle.
  • A 75% chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake from the Alpine Fault.
  • Ruapehu, Tongariro or Ngauruhoe are almost certain to erupt.
  • Mt Taranaki has a 30% to 40% chance of eruption.
  • A 50% chance that a South America magnitude-9 earthquake or more will hit.
  • A 5% chance of a volcanic eruption in Auckland.
  • A 25% chance the Hikurangi subduction zone (the fault that runs along the Southern Alps and into Wairarapa) will rupture.

That’s when things will turn dire, John says, “when [Hikurangi] goes”. “It's going to be 2000 times greater than the Canterbury earthquake with four to six minutes of strong to violent ground shaking and then there's going to be wave after wave of aftershocks.

“Then comes the tsunami… If it happens at night, and [we have] zero evacuations, we'll be looking at 32,000 seriously injured and 68,670 fatalities.

“So when I say catastrophic, it's the event that's going to bring all our systems to their knees. We will fail in our response if we don’t start thinking about it now.

“So how prepared are we for that? We're not. And this is where [NEMA is] now doing a lot of work around catastrophic planning… This is a reality – a new demand that you need to start thinking about.”

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