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President's Column: Pledges, priorities and police welfare

Welcome to 2020. All the signs are that it is going to be quite a ride as politicians use the coming months to enhance their own electoral strengths and win points on all manner of issues, including policing.

As 2019 gave way to this election year, there was no mistaking the political focus on concerns that lie at the core of who we are and what we do. We will be seeking commitments from all political parties to deliver on policing-related promises made.

At the top of that list is, undoubtedly, honouring the pledge to fully fund an 1800 net gain in the number of police officers across New Zealand.

Progress so far has been strong, and the Police Association has consistently congratulated Police for the massive recruitment drive required to reach 1800 extra cops. We need to know this job will be completed, even if it does take slightly longer than the initial timeline proposed. New Zealand needs these numbers.

The association will also be seeking a commitment for legislation that establishes mandatory name suppression for officers who, in the course of their duty, fatally shoot someone. Such an alteration to the Policing Act 2008 will ensure that neither officers nor their families are put at risk as a result of an officer having had to make the most difficult decision in policing in the course of protecting the public, themselves and their colleagues.

We will also be looking for a real commitment on resourcing for mental health care. Too often, police are the first, and frequently the only, response available for some of the most distressed New Zealanders. This situation is far too common and grossly unfair to those with urgent mental health needs and to officers who are not trained mental health workers.

Much more effort needs to go into this space because, despite all the policy, the reality out in our communities is not improving.

There is also a concerning escalation of violence among and by gang members, as we have seen only too vividly on the streets of Napier and Ruatoria. We have to find compelling disincentives to gang membership, despite how difficult that will be in some locations. The lure of cash, flash bikes and cars is proving hard to interrupt.

The association will be advocating for increased asset seizure legislation, requiring gang members and members of identified organised crime groups to bear the onus of proving they legitimately obtained their assets or the means to purchase those assets.

On the Police Welfare Fund front, our national office is midway through a comprehensive IT project aimed at improving the quality of the service we provide to members across all areas.

It will deliver a world-class Police Health Plan system that will improve our ability to turn around members’ surgery approvals and to pay claims more quickly.

You will also see an improved, automated fire and general insurance system, capable of delivering online quotes, and a new Holiday Homes booking system designed to meet our goal of ensuring as many members as possible can take advantage of our wonderful Holiday Homes network.

We also head into this busy year with a new Police Commissioner who we look forward to working closely with. Top of mind is the reality that we have a common aspiration to be the best possible police service for New Zealand.

So, as you can see, there is no shortage of work for the association team as we strive to enhance the wellbeing of our police family.