It shows no sign of abating and is justifiably leaving New Zealanders fearing for their safety and that of their families and communities.
An incredibly shocking example was last month’s gunman on a rampage across the Waitematā district. After attempting to rob a cash-in-transit van, he travelled through Henderson shooting several times at officers with no regard to the safety of the public, let alone the officers.
I acknowledge a whānau has lost a family member in this incident and the coronial process needs to unfold. However, you simply cannot ignore the obvious: bullet-ridden police cars that had been targeted by the offender. That this happened in Henderson, where the 2020 death of Constable Matthew Hunt is still very raw, understandably leaves officers and their families worrying for their safety.
I do not doubt that this incident will prompt re-litigation of the debate on general arming of officers. But it also points to the value of the now-confirmed national roll-out of the Tactical Response Model, which proved so successful in the proof-of-concept districts.
The Police purpose is for people to “Be Safe and Feel Safe” but being safe and feeling safe are arguably heterogeneous.
Statistics are always open to analysis and interpretation by various sides of an argument. Perception, which, by its very nature, is not necessarily backed by hard facts, cannot be summarily dismissed because it may be the reality for those living with a particular scenario.
Our daily diet of news tells us very clearly that some people feel crime is rampant and they do not feel safe. It is pointless quoting statistics to a community that has just witnessed a daylight attack on a dairy owner who is assaulted with a firearm while thieves steal from him and threaten any member of the public who comes close; it is pointless to tell the public that social media and technology are making these crimes more visible rather than more frequent. That may be statistically correct but that does not change the fear these events create for individuals, and that fear ripples out across communities.
All police officers know that the crime the community witnesses is only the tip of the iceberg. I am consistently surprised when a reporter expresses shock at a high profile incident when I know there are many similar events that just don’t make it into the media.
The reality is that if Police wants to address its purpose of people feeling safe, it needs to reconsider its priorities and make some hard choices about where it commits its resources.
In a perfect world, Police would attain the visibility and proactive approach communities are calling for, while continuing to work on policy initiatives and future positive projects. But it is not a perfect world and as a result people want a more visible police presence because, frankly, that makes them feel safe.
Police, however, cannot respond to this demand alone. Other government departments whose responsibilities connect directly to mitigating the causes of crime and crime-associated needs must step up.
Oranga Tamariki needs to take responsibility for dealing with our youth offending crisis.
Health needs to take the lead on the mounting mental health crisis and not leave it to police to pick up some very broken pieces.
Judges need to recognise the role of sentences as a deterrent to crime, and that the circumstances of an offender should not override the harm caused to victims, as is all too often the case.
New Zealand feels a bit broken at the moment. From a policing perspective, that didn’t just happen yesterday. For the wellbeing of our society, it certainly can’t continue on this trajectory.
We are a small country with a shared sense of identity and a proven can-do attitude. We can fix this, but it requires a practical and prioritised response across many areas. Policing, while a very public response, is still just one of the many.