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President's Column: Genuine attempt to improve frontline safety

Policing is an interesting and rewarding career, but pretty early on we learn it is full of nuances - not always subtle ones - and situations that require practical and workable solutions.

It tests us in many ways, demanding compromise, camaraderie and common sense because workable solutions are not always perfect solutions.

Late last month we were delivered a perfect example of a not entirely perfect solution with the Police/Government announcement of the Tactical Response Model (TRM), designed to enhance the safety of staff – primarily those on the frontline.

There can be no doubt this initiative is Police’s response to the call from the majority of Police Association members for general arming and an appreciable increase in specialist training, particularly firearms training.

With no will from the Police Commissioner or the Government to introduce general arming, it was off the table in the development of the TRM, which is presented as a viable compromise between the status quo and an armed police service.

Will TRM solve all our safety issues? No. Does it resolve the reasons behind members’ call for general arming? No.

We might not be fully satisfied with the TRM as “the” solution, but we owe it to ourselves and each other to be open to its promised improvements on what we currently have.

The model can be read as a genuine attempt to address concerns that the association has raised for years: safer methods of dealing with escalating, and now historic, numbers of firearms on New Zealand’s streets, and criminals increasingly willing to use them against members of the public and police officers.

We can embrace the model’s more than doubling of Police Integrated Tactical Training (PITT), and the double crewing of dog sections – triple, I would argue, taking account of the K9 – as recognition that dog handlers are routinely at the pointy end of risk response. Having another officer in the vehicle should also provide valuable insight into the merits of double crewing generally, arguably a glaring omission from this model.

The value of AOS-qualified staff deployed with Tactical Prevention Teams (TPT) will need to be demonstrated. I understand it is a model that works well in Canterbury, but I will want to hear directly from PST and road policing staff as to whether there’s a measurable difference in their perceived safety, commensurate with or better than that reported during the ART trials.

I am also concerned for rural and provincial staff who don’t have dog handlers and won’t have TPTs.
They can rightly ask what is in this new model for them. The need for safety does not stop at the borders of metropolitan Aotearoa, so further work is required for Police staff in the rural/provincial space.

Members who have already completed the Frontline Skills Enhancement Course have had a first, and reportedly positive, experience of the renewed commitment to frontline safety.

I know some members are immediately sceptical of this next phase, but it’s worth recognising the effort that has gone into consulting and researching the TRM, and convincing Government to extend Vote Police to fund it.

Already some lobby groups have piled on with the usual rants about armed police, but much of that is little more than background noise, and I sincerely hope it does not get a disproportionate voice in the assessment of this model.

Equally, the association’s stance of being open to the TRM does not mean we will not hold Police to account if the theory is not translated into reality.

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