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We often hear that New Zealand is two years behind the rest of the world. While I’m not sure that rings true in 2024 with dynamic, modern communications networks bringing the world into our living rooms, it might well be playing out in police recruiting.

International colleagues have been telling me for more than two years of the recruiting crises that police face in their countries. The stories have been consistent – policing is no longer seen as an attractive career option for many people.

The most effective recruiters are current officers. But there is a developing trend of them cautioning potential recruits to think again, citing the increasing risks of frontline policing, better salaries elsewhere and, most importantly, a lack of support from politicians and many elements of society.

Until very recently, we appeared immune to these pressures. New Zealand Police had plenty of applicants in the pipeline – well over 3000 in 2019 and in 2020. We increased police numbers by 1550 sworn officers from 2017 to 2023. To achieve this, we recruited more than 3000 new officers. This was a seriously impressive effort and even more so given the improvement in the diversity of recruits who are now constables.

But that was then, and this is now.

NZ Police has 256 vacancies, which is putting real pressure on some districts such as the Far North and Tairāwhiti. This 256 is more than a year’s worth of the extra numbers that the Government has committed to add to Police by November 2025.

The commissioner acknowledged the recruiting problem in his briefing to the incoming police minister, saying that, in November 2023, there were only 1374 people in the recruit pipeline, 68 of whom were ready for a callup to a wing.

Figures obtained by the association show 1365 in the pipeline as of last month – a 59% drop from 2020. The average conversion rate of applicants to recruits is 12%, which means there would be only 163 suitable recruits from this pipeline.

Doing the recruit-reality maths paints a grim picture. We need 256 recruits to fill vacancies, 500 per year to meet attrition and 250 per year to achieve the Government’s promised increase. That’s 1756 recruits required over the next two years. With a pipeline of only 1365 people, how is this achievable?

Is it too early to declare that the worldwide recruiting crisis is upon us?

While these concerns are clearly a factor in the current pay round arbitration, we need to look beyond that and work with Police to understand just how grim things are. We also need a comprehensive strategy now if we are to prevent the crisis impacting officers and our communities.

The “poach from another jurisdiction” approach employed by overseas police services is not something that New Zealand can or should take. We need to do all we can to ensure policing is the attractive, immensely rewarding career many of us have been fortunate enough to experience.

The first step towards this is for Police to look inward and work out what is essential to keep our officers and make them feel valued. If that is achieved, they will once again be our best recruiting tool.

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