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President's Column: Pressure-cooker policing

The job description for police officers and Police staff in 2021 is more complex, more time consuming and vastly more scrutinised than ever before.

As policing rises to meet the myriad challenges before us, the “to do” list seems to be relentlessly expanding, risking unacceptable consequences as a result of spreading ourselves too thin across too many fields.

An immediate response to that concern is that we have been given 1800 extra officers and 485 additional Police employees, so get on with it. Putting to one side the fact that we are still 400 shy on delivery of the promised extra cops, it does remain the most significant resourcing commitment ever.

Accordingly, the Government and the public expect results. So do Police staff in need of some relief in their workloads so they can deliver what they promised when they signed up. Yet, from what members consistently tell me, it’s just not happening that way. Or at least not yet.

Often overlooked in this mix of police resourcing and increased calls for service is that as the New Zealand population continues to grow – another one million (20%) added in just 17 years – so too do demands on policing.

It is also clear we are now policing in a society with increasing disparities among parts of our population.

Police officers are not just busting criminals – although they are achieving that in record numbers, especially in organised crime. They are also attending, in record numbers, mental health and domestic violence incidents. They are coping with people ramming their police cars, assaulting them and shooting at them. They are subjected to public and political criticism that is often ill-informed, deliberately or otherwise, and they are working really damned hard through all of this.

The cover story in this month’s magazine is testament to the effects of increased pressure on officers and staff. The results from the association-commissioned survey of post-traumatic stress reveals a worrying prevalence of PTSI among serving, resigned and retired police members who have been exposed to violent or traumatic events or images.

It’s a tough but vital read on a subject that we must be cognisant of in any discussions about the realities of policing. What has changed since I was a young cop is that we are now openly talking about this dark side if, or when, it creeps into our lives.

I am a supporter of Police’s Prevention First strategy, but, as with any strategy, it needs to be regularly reviewed and challenged on its fitness for purpose. Police can’t just keep adding more without clear and meaningful justification.

One example is the new high priority given to the investigation of fleeing drivers who are now not pursued unless the risk of the escaping driver outweighs the risk of the pursuit to the community. These investigations have been bumped way up the priority scale, yet nothing has been dropped down to accommodate this new requirement.

Police needs to be extremely mindful of the toll of such directives, especially when Kiwis also expect to see officers on the streets, making people feel safer by their presence, which is, I believe, core policing. If we let the core slip, we are in danger of losing the public’s faith.

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Iam Keen (April 2021)

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This column is written by a frontline police members. It does not represent the view or the policies of the Police Association.

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