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Over the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of travelling the country to attend the majority of the 33 Police Association annual meetings across the regions. It is always a valued opportunity to take the pulse of issues affecting members, whether at the meetings themselves or during catch-ups in the meal rooms.

From discussions on topics raised, it seems members are reasonably happy, despite some significant regional challenges and frustrations with the way policies such as fleeing drivers have been implemented.

Underlying these is a concerning universal theme of increasing demand pressures exacerbated by high rates of absenteeism due to Covid or influenza sickness. This leaves members feeling that the increase in Police numbers has simply been absorbed by demand and not been the cavalry we all hoped for.

There is good reason for this thinking.
The 1800 extra police promised represented a 20 per cent increase and about 1400 have been delivered so far. However, at the same time, we have seen a 60 per cent increase in family harm and mental health calls. Throw in the pressures created by escalating gang tensions (effective though Operation Cobalt is) and members are busier than ever.

While it is of little comfort, New Zealand is not alone in facing this demand/supply imbalance.

I recently attended the International Council of Police Representative Associations (ICPRA) conference in Britain. It was the first since 2018, thanks to Covid. The most common discussion centred on the parallel problems of demand pressures on police services worldwide, climbing attrition rates and an inability to recruit new officers. It seems more officers are just choosing to leave.

This was recently discussed by the Australian Police Commissioners, and it made me think about how long it will be before they start looking to poach from over the ditch?

We could be facing a perfect storm for policing in Aotearoa. I hear the pipeline of prospective recruits is drying up across some key targeted demographics, we know attrition is rising, and we have a bubble of members nearing retirement.

The good news is that Police is acting, particularly with an emphasis on increasing female recruitment numbers. However, we need assurance that Police has factored in a corresponding increase to cover the inevitable parental leave requirements for more women Police staff, and the growing number of young male staff who now take parental leave.

These issues all point to a need to address the demand side of the equation and, indeed, the thinking behind our Prevention First strategy.

The critical element is bringing the public on side. It will not be easy to explain why police need to say “no” to some demands without risking damage to the all-important trust-and-confidence component of policing in New Zealand. But, if the demand/supply imbalance is not addressed now it will only become more acute.

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