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Members step up in difficult times

Addressing the 86th Police Association Conference, president Chris Cahill reflected on a year of relentless pressure and frustration for members, praising the way they continued to balance enforcing difficult restrictions with maintaining public trust and confidence.

While having to be “calm and clear” as they guard against the spread of Covid-19, police also have to protect their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues and their families, Chris Cahill told conference delegates, acknowledging those working under the strain of extended Level 4 and 3 lockdowns in Auckland and beyond.

It was no surprise, he said, that the association had been so frustrated and angered by the lack of vaccination priority afforded to most officers, and that had taken a toll.

“The non-prioritisation of frontline officers has severely damaged their sense of worth, particularly when combined with a wage freeze that was announced on the very morning we began negotiations,” he said.

The “unwelcome surprise” of the wage freeze had been a significant barrier to meaningful negotiations with Police and final offer arbitration for the constabulary collective was on the horizon, with the Police employee negotiations being put on hold until that was resolved.

Meanwhile, core policing, whether on the frontline or in other workgroups, was escalating year on year regardless of a pandemic. Family violence, mental health, gang warfare, shootings, assaults and all other callouts continued unabated.

Mental health calls were just shy of 69,000 last year and by August 2021 were already at 47,000. The average number of calls a month for 2020 was 5760, 1329 a week, 189 a day. Family violence investigations fluctuated between 15,000 and 17,000 a month.

These two types of calls for service accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the work of a frontline officer. “What worries me deeply is there seems to be no tangible solutions in sight for either of these particularly challenging community-wide demands, and so, as with other social failures, they land heavily in the lap of police.”

The association was also concerned about the violent changes in New Zealand’s crime landscape and the willingness of criminals to assault police – 1520 serious assaults in 2020, four a day.

Officers had been king hit, punched in the face, kicked in the head, bitten, and during an attack on one officer they were “thrown around like a rag doll”. Many required surgery and prolonged recuperation for their injuries, some of which were career-ending.

Once again, the 2021 Member Survey had highlighted the quandary of general arming, which most frontline staff wanted.

The reality was that in the current environment, general arming was off the agenda for Police, Chris said. “While that is at odds with the association’s official position, it does not mean we don’t work with Police management on other staff safety initiatives,” he said.

Although the recently launched Tactical Response Model (TRM) was not a perfect solution, it did provide welcome enhancements, including more than doubling the amount of tactical training and introducing double crewing for dog handlers.

The success of the new Targeted Prevention Teams would depend on whether they were rolled out in sufficient numbers across key areas of frontline policing to bridge the space left by the abandonment of the Armed Response Teams.

Other notable gaps remained, such as rural areas that didn’t have dog handlers and wouldn’t see TPTs, and the wider issue of single crewing.

The need to enhance officer safety was without doubt driven by the plethora of illegal firearms in communities. “The association believes long-term member safety depends heavily on the restriction of the supply to criminals. Key to this is a two-pronged approach of precise targeting of those who have illegal weapons and the urgent implementation of a firearms registry, which will considerably reduce the supply line.”

The success of the TRM would ultimately be judged by frontline staff. “The association will rely on the credible feedback from members on this.”

To assist with that, the association planned to revamp training for its committee members and encourage better engagement between directors and members to improve participation in association activities.

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