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The rapid spread of online disinformation poses one of the biggest challenges to public trust and confidence in police, Commissioner Andrew Coster told delegates to the Police Association’s annual conference.

Speaking to the conference theme, Policing: Future Challenges, the Commissioner said the social disharmony fuelled by online “rubbish” during the Covid-19 pandemic provided a glimpse of what the future holds for police.

The Capitol Hill riot following Donald Trump’s 2020 US election loss, and aspects of the Parliament protest in Wellington were examples of the damage that disinformation could cause.

Social media companies would need to come under greater scrutiny, especially around presenting balanced content and maintaining public safety from online harms.

He also noted the rise of cybercrime and online fraudsters and the difficulty of holding them to account. In Britain, less than 1 per cent of cybercrime and fraud resulted in prosecution, despite it making up 50 per cent of the crime there. That had resulted in a citizens’ “crisis in confidence” towards their police.

New Zealand Police needed to be “really smart” about how it dealt with those problems and manage community expectations. “Otherwise, will people help us when we need help? Will they give us the information we need? Will they come to us when they’re victims?”

Organised crime would also look to exploit emerging technologies, he said, citing 3D printers as a particular concern because of the ability to produce untraceable firearms, some of which have already been discovered in New Zealand.

The skills of staff would also need to diversify to tackle online criminal behaviour, he said.

In the longer term, Police would need to tackle issues around climate and environmental change, competition for resources, social diversification, an ageing population and the expanding unregulated online world, he said.

IPCA/OPC report

Taking questions from delegates, Commissioner Coster was asked about the Independent Police Conduct Authority/Office of the Privacy Commissioner report on police taking and storing photos and voluntary fingerprints of people.

He said Police was awaiting advice on whether a challenge through the courts was needed to decide the matter or if it was something that would need to go through Parliament.

He acknowledged citizens’ right to privacy and Police’s need for intelligence gathering was a balancing act. “Ultimately this is about community trust,” he said.


Commissioner Coster warned that “something’s got to give” as demand on police grows. He referenced the 60 per cent jump in mental health and family harm callouts in the past five years, compared with Police’s 20 per cent increase in staffing.

Police was continually pointing to the need for other government agencies to up their services, he said.

Custody Units

Remedial work on custody units around the country was ongoing in an “incredibly problematic” space for staff safety. Infrastructure costs remained a challenge and “long-running conversations” were continuing about alternative ways to manage custody services.

Proudest day of his career

Commissioner Coster said the way police handled the final day of the Parliament protest was “the proudest moment” of his career. He commended the courage and teamwork that staff showed during the ensuing violence.

It was clear there was insufficient protective equipment to deal with the scale of what eventuated and work was under way to address that, he said.Public order training for officers was part of that.

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