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President's column: Keep investing in training to hit 1800

When I was elected to this role just over four years ago, there was one outstanding priority that required urgent attention, and, despite what some may think, it was not firearms.

It was the deterioration in the morale and welfare of police officers due to the failure of successive governments to invest in them and enable them to deliver the quality of policing they could be proud of, and that the public deserved.

Police were simply not able to respond to the ever-growing demands for service resulting in a desperate need to increase police numbers.

This situation did not arise overnight, but the drivers were not exactly hidden either.

New Zealand’s population was increasing apace. There were unrealistic expectations on police to deal with growing mental health and family violence demands, and Police had changed its crime fighting strategy to Prevention First without properly resourcing it.

This left us with a stretched workforce, staff working long shifts, often without breaks, clocking up many hours of overtime, coping with unacceptable file loads, and morale was, unsurprisingly, at an all-time low.

One week into my new job I was thrilled when the then National government announced a commitment to 880 extra officers and 245 extra Police employees.
If realised, this undertaking had the potential to meet the priorities of the Prevention First strategy, as well as the traditional demands for service, and the association welcomed the relief it signalled.

Seven months later, the incoming Labour/NZ First coalition upped the ante and made a game-changing commitment to an 1800 net increase in constabulary and 485 Police employees. The then police minister, Stuart Nash, declared Labour would strive to achieve this over three years.

The maths for a net increase of this many officers meant training 1000 new recruits a year to allow for attrition. At the time I believed this was optimistic and allowed the Government some leeway – it could take a year or two longer to deliver, but it must deliver.

The undeniable fact is Police has been able to meet the level of recruitment required, with quality recruits now making a positive difference in the areas they have been deployed to throughout the country. What was unexpected was the incredibly low attrition rate since Covid hit, and this has assisted in the current tally of a 1285 net boost in numbers.

We are now in year four of the commitment and still just over 500 officers shy of the promised 1800. Yet recruit wings have been cancelled until at least May because Police is ahead of its personnel budget, and there is no certainty for any recruit wings for the rest of this year.

It seems blindingly obvious that, instead of delaying, now is the time for the Government to come to the party and top up the budget – particularly as there are 4000 promising applicants wanting to join Police, and the Police College has proven its ability to train those who make the cut.

Every officer knows the demands they face are not easing and the stats underscore that, with, to choose a few examples, a 15 per cent year-on-year jump in family violence investigations, a 10 per cent increase in mental health callouts, and a 30 per cent increase in gang membership.

Before last year’s election, Labour repeated its commitment to 1800 extra officers, and it cannot now shirk from that promise. Police has played its part in adding outstanding people to its ranks. The Government has the political capital to honour its agreement as soon as possible. The time to spend that capital is now.