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As you will see from this month’s Counting Cops graph (page 11), we have slowly snaked our way towards the magical 1800 net increase in sworn police officers promised by the Government way back in 2017.

It’s likely the target will be reached by July and will represent the biggest single increase in officer numbers in living memory.

It is positive, but while the original promise was to strive to do this in three years, it was never fully funded for that short timeframe, and through political and economic massaging it stretched to six.

During the first two years of increased recruitment, there was an obviously positive effect on frontline morale but that has proven short-lived. Massive increases in demand and challenges such as Covid have diluted that optimism and most staff no longer talk about the value of the extra numbers.

Police should be congratulated for defying the scepticism as to whether it could recruit the extra officers over and above the 400 needed annually just to hold the status quo. Getting to 1800 has meant 3000 new recruits in the past six years and among them is a greater diversity in age, gender and ethnicity, making for a more vibrant and relevant organisation.

Discussions with international colleagues strongly indicate that New Zealand Police has bucked the trend to achieve this recruitment milestone. In Aotearoa, attrition rates dropped to 2% during Covid and is now back to its historical norm of 4.5%.

In Australia, staff are leaving in greater numbers and there is a dearth of people wanting to sign up. Victoria reports up to 800 vacancies; New South Wales 1200; Northern Territory has an attrition rate of 10%; Tasmania 7%; and Queensland is calling for retired officers to come back in limited roles.

And it is not just over the ditch. During a recent online meeting with colleagues from the International Council of Police Representative Associations (ICPRA), the high level of concern sparked discussion on holding an international symposium on recruitment and retention. Members from Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States predict crises in their respective countries if this trend is not turned around.

I don’t believe for a minute that New Zealand has any cause for complacency. Western Australia and Northern Territory are already recruiting here and Queensland is soon to launch an aggressive and financially attractive campaign that will include significant relocation allowances and salaries based on previous service. All of this will be enhanced by Australia’s easing of Kiwis’ pathway to citizenship.

Our politicians need to wake up and ensure we are better prepared to meet this worldwide issue. A starting point is a long-overdue fix for our outdated remuneration structure, which overtly fails to reward police staff early in their career.

Yes, we will soon have 1800 more officers than we did six years ago, and yet the public is clamouring for police to be more visible. Just imagine the tumult if we start bleeding experienced staff to more attractive jobs offshore.

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