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Economist Cameron Bagrie.

The spirit of optimism was keeping a low profile at the 2022 conference as guest speakers canvassed the theme of future challenges for policing and the world.

Economist Cameron Bagrie, an independent adviser to the Police Association’s Welfare Fund Board, said he had not seen New Zealand so fragmented, and he wondered, “How are we going to heal?”

New Zealand was facing disruption on multiple levels as the world entered the fourth industrial revolution – technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) changing the way people live and work – and the pace of change was exponential.

There was also a technological cold war for “microchip supremacy” being played out between the United States and China.

“We now live in a world where one plus one equals 11, not two. That offers opportunity and challenge and we need to adapt.”

The immediate problem was rampant inflation – “a thief that steals money and creates social disorder”.

Getting that inflationary thief back in jail meant hitting growth, some economic pain and displacing jobs, and that carried economic and social consequences.

“Globally, this is the most challenging economic environment in 30 years.”

In New Zealand, the education statistics were the worst in 20 years with serious worries over attendance rates and attainment levels. “Possibly up to 15 per cent of children are not attending school regularly. They probably won’t turn up to work, either.”

Deteriorating fundamentals were translating into the economic costs of ram raids and burglaries. “If we don’t get education right, and get law and order right, the economy will crumble.”

A tell-tale indicator of problems was net migration, with 20,000 Kiwis having departed in the past 18 months.

The top emerging issues of the day were inflation and law and order, with an undercurrent of problems getting out of control. None of this was helped by the rise of populism in world politics, he said.

Politicians were only working to a three-year cycle. A structural shift and reset were needed to take more risk when human and political instinct was to take little risk. That meant doing things differently, not just looking through an investment lens, but getting more innovative.

“We will have to pay the piper to get out of this inflationary jam. Housing is no longer a one way bet, economic growth is going to take a hit and benefit numbers will rise.

“Underinvestment in critical stuff is starting to kick in and we need to see real long-term leadership processes, not just until the next election cycle.”

Tax cuts, he said, were a short-term sugar pill. “The era of the sugar-candy splatter gun confetti is gone. We need substance to replace the sugar candy being dished out by those offering tax cuts or spending without accountability over results.”

Spending too much money would start an “inflationary bonfire”. “We need to be smarter with how and where we spend.”

Fair and equitable policing

A future challenge for New Zealand police is closer to home. The issue of bias.

A significant piece of work being undertaken by Police over the next two years is Understanding Policing Delivery (UPD): fair and equitable policing for all communities.

Inspector Scott Gemmell, area commander for Counties Manukau East, is chair of the UPD’s Operational Advisory Group. He spoke to delegates about his role in a project that is putting police practices and policies under the microscope to identify any built-in biases against some communities.

“UPD looks at whether, where and to what extent bias exists within our structures and systems. Key questions are: who we stop and how we speak to people; who we use force against and why; and charging decisions and why.”

An independent panel, led by Sir Kim Workman, is overseeing the programme and Scott’s involvement is about bringing the operational perspective. There was no doubt it was challenging work, he told conference delegates. “We must have an operational voice in this group and find out the truth about our districts and workgroups.”

The project was seeking personal examples of bias and experiences from within Police ranks. “This is about finding fair and equitable outcomes for victims, witnesses and offenders and to reduce the element of bias in all situations, including stressful and time-exigent ones. When we are stressed, we fall back to our training. If we can ‘design out’ any elements of bias in our training, then in all situations we can rely on making sound and bias-free decisions.“

Megatrends and the metaverse

Tracey Green, a police officer turned academic who heads ANZPAA (Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency), warned delegates of the “megatrends” coming over the horizon that would affect the policing environment.

She too referenced the fourth industrial revolution and the rise of mega computers. “It stretches your imagination in day-to-day usage, let alone trying to police it,” she said.

“The data we have to deal with, including in law enforcement, is growing out of control. Every job has elements of digital data. There are massive storage problems in the cloud. It’s not secure and it can be exploited. This can affect the chain of evidence. We must try to control this now to prevent a crisis.”

In the realm of VR, an alternate reality was emerging in the form of the “metaverse” – a place where you could, for example, buy virtual property and artwork using cryptocurrency. In Dubai, it was possible for the police to interview people in a virtual police station and for the public to report crimes in the metaverse.

Law enforcement agencies were scrambling to try to figure out what sort of controls and strategies might be necessary in these new environments. “At some point it will all come downhill and land on policing.”

With shifting economic tides, police services needed new ways of looking at what sort of workforce and level of flexibility were needed.

Public order policing would be significant as frustrations with climate change policies and government responses bubbled over into protests, particularly among the younger generation – the ones who had their first digital device by the age of four.

Disinformation issues were “terrifying”, she said, especially when they originated at the top of world politics. “There is a knock-on effect in terms of public order and police are the only 24/7 response service.”

The use and abuse of cyberspace was another challenge for policing with the rise in cybercrime, fake news and public discontent.

In tandem with that growth, police worldwide were facing recruitment problems, not only in terms of numbers, but the need to reflect the diversity of their communities. In New Zealand, there was a decline in the European population, with growth across Māori, Pacific and Asian groups. Police needed to continue recruiting from those populations to engage with those communities.

Police were also suffering from mission creep as so much was being asked of police that should not be their core work.

“If we don’t roll our sleeves up now, it won’t be a good future for our younger staff.”

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