Lorraine McMurtrie, chair of the North Shore Rodney and Auckland Motorways Area Committee, summed up the preceding year as being one of “sorrow and uncertainty for many”, to which police had responded with “professionalism and courage”.
In Henderson, chair Mike Colson noted that firearms were a serious ongoing risk for staff who were still feeling the effects of the death of Matt Hunt, which, once again, had highlighted the ease with which offenders had access to firearms and their willingness to use them.
Mike said there needed to be immediate access by staff to a “defensive” firearm such as a Glock. “We do not want to have this go seriously wrong again,” he said. “We have to ask, is the risk to an unarmed police officer who is unexpectedly confronted by an armed offender greater than the risk any armed police officer poses to the public or any offender?”
In Counties Manukau, chair Martin Carroll, said that while firearms were definitely a topic of debate, the most significant event of the past year had been Covid-19, which had changed the way not just police, but the whole country, had to work and live and carry out day-to-day business.
“With two lockdowns in Auckland and multiple checkpoints, we had some members on these checkpoints for their entire shifts with no breaks.”
One of the most important roles for the committee continued to be to support and advocate for the welfare and employment needs of individuals, particularly around the restructuring of work groups, bullying in the workplace and changes in position descriptions.
Several chairs relayed complaints from staff about the length of time it took Police to deal with Code of Conduct and IPCA investigations.
In Waikato, chair Derek Lamont said these delays were not fair to either the members involved, their family or any complainants. He welcomed an initiative in Waikato to appoint a fulltime investigator to such investigations.
Meanwhile, members in his area continued to be disappointed that Police staff were “ranked so lowly” in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations, despite being first responders at the coalface of the response to the pandemic.
- Acknowledging the one-year anniversary of the killing of Constable Matt Hunt in Auckland
- Concerns about illegal firearms and police safety
- The police role in the Covid-19 pandemic response and the vaccination rollout
- The manslaughter trial of three police officers following a death in custody in Hāwera
- The policy change on the pursuit of fleeing drivers
- The current pay round
- The Frontline Safety Improvement Programme
Further east, in Gisborne, chair Brent Griffiths shared similar frustrations, but added a note of optimism. “While we may be struggling to secure any uplift in remuneration and continue to be unnecessarily exposed to the Covid-19 virus, we have maintained a high level of respect and appreciation from the general public.”
Nearby Wairoa had been struggling with a surge in overt gang-related violence with firearms-related offences making up the bulk of calls for services over the previous few months, stretching local resourcing and requiring staff to be seconded from other areas. “This reputation does not help the recruiting issues currently being faced in Wairoa,” Brent noted.
To the south, staffing was also a concern in Western Bay of Plenty. Tauranga chair Wayne Hunter reported that his initial optimism about the Government’s promised 1800 extra staff had been dashed. “We have not moved forward as fast as we would have expected and PST in WBOP seem to have hit particularly hard with staff losses and those left behind having to take up the slack.”
In Rotorua, chair Mike Membery, identified fatigue as an issue because of extra workloads necessitated by heightened awareness since the mosque shootings in Christchurch, Covid-19 lockdowns and the need to staff MIQ facilities.
In many parts of the country, it appears that members have felt under siege from multiple fronts, including, disappointingly, the Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon, who was reported as saying that all New Zealand police were racist.
Although he later apologised after pressure from the Police Association, the comment hurt. “A kick in the guts doesn’t even begin to describe the detrimental effects such a disparaging and offensive remark can have on an organisation that prides itself on its commitment to Māori and the value of diversity,” said Brent Griffiths.
Reporting from the Taupō/Tokoroa area, chair AJ Munro said he felt police had “taken a real beating from various media” and were frustrated at misinformed criticism of “our perceived mentality towards people in our country”.
In Hawke’s Bay, chair Sally Patrick also noted the offence that Meng Foon’s comment had caused and she thanked association president Chris Cahill for challenging it. “I see the daily efforts all of our teams and especially our prevention teams who do amazing work with Māori and try to achieve better outcomes for Māori and their whānau.”
Sally’s area in Eastern District has also been under the pump with the “huge, growing problem” of gang numbers, the “relentless” battle against methamphetamine, the “sheer volume of calls for service” and an unprecedented rise in the number of serious assaults on officers, resulting in a sense of apprehension among frontline staff when responding to jobs.
The new pursuit policy had also had a profound effect on operational staff, she said. “There was a real drop in morale, and frustration that we are not being able to police the way we should be. Our officers have had to adapt to a new way of dealing with fleeing drivers. I understand the rationale, but I think there is some way to go to get this right.”
The manslaughter charges faced by three members from Hāwera, which concluded with a not guilty verdict after a jury trial in the High Court at New Plymouth in June, were top of mind for members nationwide, but especially close to home for members in Taranaki and neighbouring districts.
Palmerston North chair Allen Wells noted the importance of being a member of the association when it came to critical incidents. “It’s like an insurance policy and one that, when needed, is of immense value,” he said.
In Horowhenua, chair Mike O’Hagan applauded Police’s new focus on enhancing frontline safety, but said general arming should also be up for discussion because “over the years the majority of members have voted in favour of general arming”.
In Wairarapa, chair Mark Brown noted that temporary arming orders have become increasingly common in his area due to fears around gun violence, with officers armed, on average, on a weekly basis.
Heading south, the issues, concerns and responses from members are the same.
In Aoraki/South Canterbury, chair Will Joines’ message was that if staff needed help or support, they should not be deterred from seeking it.
“Our organisation is moving away from military-style leadership and no longer accepts the ‘toughen up and have a few beers to get over that hard day’ attitude,” he said. “Although,” he added, “I do enjoy having a beer after a hard day’s slog.”